Crude Oil Price Barely Blinks Following EIA Inventory Report

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Thursday morning, showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 4.6 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 462.4 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory has moved into the upper half of the average range for this time of year.

This week’s report was delayed by one day due to the Labor Day holiday. Last week’s results also reflect the impact of tropical storm Harvey on the region of the country where nearly half of its oil production is refined.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 2.8 million barrels in the week ending September 1. API also reported gasoline supplies fell by 2.5 million barrels and distillate inventories fell by 600,000 barrels. For the same period, an S&P Platts Global survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 2.7 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 4.2 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 1.9 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories fell by 3.2 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain near the upper limit of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced about 9.5 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, down about 1.1 million barrels compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged over 9.5 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Refinery closures due to tropical storm Harvey are virtually entirely responsible for last’s build in the crude oil inventory and the drop in gasoline stockpiles. With refineries closed and export terminals shut down, there was nowhere for oil to go last week. Had wells in the Eagle Ford shale play not been shut in for several days the stockpile situation could have been even more lopsided.

As of last night, five Gulf Coast refineries remained shut down, while a total of seven have begun the restart process. Another seven are producing at reduced levels. Platts notes that the whole restart process could take several weeks and that because the fall maintenance schedule for refiners is due next month, some may be considering using the current shutdown to pull the maintenance forward and keep the refining units offline.

If that were to happen, demand for crude could drop through mid- to late October, when refineries will begin producing winter grade fuel.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for October delivery traded down about 0.5% at around $48.86 a barrel, and it traded at $49.02 shortly after the report’s release. WTI settled at $49.16 on Tuesday and opened at $49.14 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on October futures is $42.52 to $58.34.

Distillate inventories decreased by 1.4 million barrels last week and have moved near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged about 4.1 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 9.9% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 4.5 million barrels a day last week, down about 600,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 7.1 million barrels a day, down by 822,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 79.7% of capacity, with daily input averaging 14.5 million barrels a day, about 3.3 million barrels a day less than the previous week’s average. Analysts were looking for refinery usage of 89.6% for the week.

Crude oil exports slipped to 153,000 barrels a day last week, down by 596,000 barrels over the prior week and 358,000 barrels less than at the same time last year. The cumulative daily average export total last week fell to 759,000 barrels a day, up from 481,000 barrels a day in the same week a year ago, an increase of 57.8%.

Imports, exports and refinery runs all fell sharply due to the effects of Harvey. There is no reason to believe, however, that the impact will be anything but temporary or that crude oil prices will break out of a tight trading band of $45 to $50 a barrel.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.672, up about 23 cents, from $2.449 a week ago and up about 33 cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.192 on average in the United States. The sharp increase is entirely due to the impact of Harvey on gasoline production in Texas.

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 less than 0.1%, at $78.78 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 10.7%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.2%, at $111.60 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are up about 9.3% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 0.5%, at $9.99 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 5.1%, at $23.34 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.