Crude Oil Price Slips on Small Change to Inventory Levels

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning, showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories dropped by 1.5 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 481.9 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 rose by 1.78 million barrels in the week ending July 28. API also reported gasoline supplies dropped by 4.8 million barrels and distillate inventories fell by 1.22 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 1.3 million barrels in gasoline inventories, and a drop of 900,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 2.5 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain in the upper half of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced about 10.3 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, down by about 100,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged about 9.8 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Crude oil prices rose 8.6% last week, and for the month of July prices rose nearly 9%. The first trading day of August, however, saw the price of benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude dip from just over $50 a barrel to around $48.50 before settling at $49.16. Trading had been sideways ahead of today’s EIA report, primarily due to questions about OPEC members’ commitment to the agreed-upon production cuts.

A new wrinkle appeared earlier this week. It is possible that the United States may impose more sanctions aimed at Venezuela, as a result of last Sunday’s questionable election outcome. President Trump has imposed some new sanctions on the country but has so far not barred imports of Venezuelan oil. For the week ending July 21, U.S. imports from Venezuela totaled 669,000 barrels a day, behind only Canada (3.02 million barrels) and Saudi Arabia (932,000 barrels).

U.S. Gulf Coast refiners, including Valero, Phillips 66 and Chevron, have argued against an embargo on imports of Venezuela’s heavy crude oil. Their refineries have been configured to run heavier grades of crude oil like Venezuela’s, Mexico’s and Canada’s. Typically they mix the heavier crudes with light U.S. crudes to maximize their throughput. The refineries could run with a higher percentage of light crude, but that lowers their total output.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for September delivery traded down about 0.5% at around $48.99 a barrel and slipped further to around $48.80 (down about 0.8%) shortly after the report’s release. WTI settled at $49.16 on Tuesday and opened at $48.80 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on September futures is $42.29 to $58.36.

Distillate inventories decreased by 200,000 barrels last week and have moved down into 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, up by 14.5% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 5.2 million barrels a day last week, up about 100,000 barrels a day compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 8.3 million barrels a day, up by 209,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 95.4% of capacity, with daily input averaging 17.4 million barrels a day, about 123,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Analysts were looking for refinery usage of 94.4% for the week.

Crude oil exports fell to 702,000 barrels a day last week, down 328,000 barrels over the prior week and 25,000 barrels more than at the same time last year. The cumulative daily average export total last week was 766,000 barrels a day, up from 453,000 barrels a day in the same week a year ago, an increase of 69%.

Refining runs of 17.4 million less imports of 8.4 million and domestic production of 9.43 million barrels a day last week continue to imply that stockpiles may not be falling fast enough to push prices a lot higher before the summer driving season ends.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.330, up nearly five cents from $2.282 a week ago and up almost 10 cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.126 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 up about 0.3%, at $80.44 in a 52-week range of $78.27 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 7.9%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.5%, at $110.24 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are up more than 11% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 0.9%, at $10.00 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1.4%, at $24.22 in a 52-week range of $23.63 to $36.35.