Crude Oil Price Dips on Unexpected Inventory Increase

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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 increased by 2.2 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 457.1 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remains 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 1.56 million barrels in the week ending November 3. API also reported gasoline supplies rose by 520,000 barrels and distillate inventories fell by 3.13 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 2.7 million barrels in crude inventories, a drop of 2.18 million barrels in gasoline and a decline of 2.1 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories fell by 3.3 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and have dropped into the lower half of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced 10.2 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, roughly flat compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged over 9.3 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, again roughly flat compared with the prior week.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for December delivery traded down about 0.8% at around $56.86 a barrel, and it traded at $56.72 shortly after the report’s release and fell further to around $56.56 minutes later. WTI settled at $57.20 on Tuesday and opened at $56.96 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on December futures is $43.08 to $58.44.

The recent sharp increase in price for both WTI and Brent crude has led to a huge increase in long positions in the futures market among speculative buyers. Hedge funds and other nonparticipants in the physical market have amassed a net long position in the five major petroleum futures and options contracts of more than 1 billion barrels, an increase of nearly 720 million barrels since June, according to Reuters industry analyst John Kemp, who noted:

Most investors appear to believe prices are moving into a new and higher trading range and want to ride the rally until the new price ceiling is discovered.

The concentration of long positions creates a significant risk of a sharp price reversal if and when portfolio managers attempt to realize some of their profits.

Week over week, U.S. crude oil exports tumbled by 1.26 million barrels a day last week and U.S. production rose by 67,000 barrels a day. The larger than expected increase in U.S. stockpiles is, in large part, due to the decline in exports.

Distillate inventories decreased by 3.4 million barrels last week and remained in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged 3.9 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, down by 2.9% 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 to the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 7.4 million barrels a day, down by about 194,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 89.6% of capacity, with daily input averaging 16.3 million barrels a day, about 290,000 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 $2.548, up more than 10 cents from $2.482 a week ago and down about five cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.207 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 0.7%, at $82.97 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 2%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 1%, at $116.091 in a 52-week range of $102.55 to $120.89. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are trading up about 9.3% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA: USO) traded down about 1.3%, at $11.35 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEAMERICAN: OIH) traded down about 0.9%, at $25.65 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.