Crude Oil Price Gets Momentary Boost Following EIA Inventory Report

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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 2.5 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 509.1 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 2.72 million barrels in the week ending June 16. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 465,000 barrels and distillate inventories increased by 1.84 million barrels. For the same period, an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 2 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 750,000 barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 250,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories also decreased by 600,000 barrels last week, according to the EIA, but remain above the upper limit of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced about 10.2 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, up by about 400,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged about 9.6 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 1.6% compared with the same period a year ago.

We noted on Tuesday that refining run rates of more than 17 million barrels a day are soaking up crude oil production increases and holding down the price of both crude oil and refined products. One side effect of lower crude prices is a near-total reversal in the crude oil futures market.

Following the November announcement from OPEC that the cartel and its partners would cut production by 1.6 million barrels a day, crude prices topped $50 a barrel and producers piled into the futures market as they locked in the higher prices for their expected future production.

Now that prices have dropped, producers are no longer hedging, but large consumers such as airlines and trucking companies are buying up futures contracts at the low prices, locking in their future (low) fuel costs. The forward price curve has flipped from a position where current spot prices were higher than future prices (called backwardation) to the more familiar position where current spot prices are lower than future prices (i.e., contango).

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for August delivery traded up about 0.5% at around $43.75 a barrel and rose to around $44.04 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude for July delivery settled at $43.34 on Tuesday, the final trading day for the July contract. The August contract closed at $43.51 on Tuesday and opened at $43.38 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on August futures is $42.97 to $58.30.

Distillate inventories increased by 1.1 million barrels last week and have moved above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.9 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 4% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 5.3 million barrels a day last week, flat compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 7.9 million barrels a day, down by about 149,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 94% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 17.2 million barrels a day, about 104,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.282, down nearly four cents from $2.324 a week ago and down more than seven cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.325 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 flat at $82.32, in a 52-week range of $79.26 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 10%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.4%, at $106.09 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added about 3.2% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up about 0.6%, at $9.00 in a 52-week range of $8.83 to $12.04.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1.1% to $24.61, after posting new 52-week low earlier this morning of $24.41. The 52-week high is $36.35.