Crude Oil Prices Dip as Inventories Shrink

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories decreased by 4.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 516.3 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remained in the upper half of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories fell by 1.5 million barrels in the week ending May 19. API also reported gasoline supplies decreased by 3.15 million barrels and distillate inventories decreased by 1.85 million barrels. For the same period, an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 2.8 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 400,000 barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 500,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 800,000 barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain near the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged over 9.4 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 1.9% compared with the same period a year ago.

The release of the Trump Administration’s 2018 fiscal year budget included a sale of about half of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The sale could raise about $16.5 billion in cash.

Whether selling half of a 688 million barrel stockpile is, from a strategic policy standpoint, a good idea remains arguable, and it certainly will be argued. What is indisputable is that if President Trump wants to make the sales, he doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do so.

In January, President Obama sold 6.2 million barrels from the SPR to Shell and Phillips 66 to pay for modernization of the massive salt domes that hold most of the stockpile, and more such sales will take place over the next few years. Congress also passed a law in 2016 requiring the sale of 25 million barrels from the SPR over the next three years to raise funding for medical research.

One last note on the Trump budget: it eliminates federal royalty payments to the states for offshore oil production. The oil barons of Texas and Louisiana, among others, are not amused.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for July delivery traded up about 0.1% at around $51.50 a barrel and rose to $51.70 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $51.47 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on July futures is $44.13 to $58.15.

Distillate inventories fell by 500,000 barrels last week and remain in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 4.2 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, down by 1.9% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.2 million barrels a day last week, up about 200,000 barrels a day compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 8.3 million barrels a day, down by about 296,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 93.5% of capacity, with daily input averaging 17.3 million barrels a day, about 159,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.367, up about three cents from $2.336 a week ago and down more than five cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.290 on average in the United States.

Here is a look at how share prices for two blue-chip stocks and two exchange traded funds reacted to this latest report.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) traded down about 0.4%, at $82.24 in a 52-week range of $80.30 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 8.3% and is down about 20% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down less than 0.1%, at $106.23 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added about 5.9% over the past 12 months and trade down about 20% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up about 0.2%, at $10.66 in a 52-week range of $9.23 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 0.4%, at $27.91 in a 52-week range of $26.10 to $36.35.