Crude Oil Price Wobbles After Inventory Report, Waiting on OPEC

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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 decreased by 3.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 453.7 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 rose by 1.82 million barrels in the week ending November 24. API also reported gasoline supplies fell by 1.53 million barrels and distillate inventories increased by 2.7 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 2.3 million barrels in crude inventories, a rise of 1.2 million barrels in gasoline and an increase of 230,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 3.6 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain in the middle of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced over 10.2 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, down about 200,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged about over 9.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.8% compared with the same period last year.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for January delivery traded down about 0.4% at around $57.77 a barrel, and it slipped to around $57.71 after the report’s release but rose to around $57.85 minutes later. WTI settled at $57.99 on Tuesday and opened at $57.73 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on January futures is $43.39 to $59.05.

The much anticipated meeting of OPEC oil ministers opens Thursday in Vienna, and the outcome is likely to have an immediate impact on both near-term and longer-term crude oil prices. The Saudis and other members have been negotiating with Russia to extend the existing production cuts through the end of 2018. The Russians have so far been noncommittal.

If the Russians decline an extension and resume production at previous levels when the current agreement runs out at the end of March, crude prices will immediately give back a big portion of their recent gains. If the Russians agree to extend their production cuts for any length of time before the end of 2018, prices will also fall. Only a commitment from Russia to maintain its current production levels will lift prices.

OPEC and its partners face a further problem and that is how they will bring the current production cut agreement to an end. Will they wind down slowly or just turn on the taps again?

Week over week, U.S. crude oil exports slipped by 179,000 barrels a day last week, and U.S. production rose by just 3,000 barrels a day. Exports averaged 1.41 million barrels a day last week and have a cumulative daily average for the year of 934,000 barrels a day, a 96% increase over the year-ago export total.

Distillate inventories increased by 2.7 million barrels last week and remained in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 4.1 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 3.2% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.3 million barrels a day last week, roughly flat compared to the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 7.3 million barrels a day, down by 544,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 92.6% of capacity, with daily input averaging 17 million barrels a day, about 165,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Exports of refined products rose by 495,000 barrels a day last week to 5.92 million barrels a day.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.499, down nearly three cents from $2.526 a week ago and up more than three cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.15 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 0.4%, at $82.04 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 4.3%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down less than 0.1%, at $116.40 in a 52-week range of $102.55 to $120.89. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are trading up about 6.6% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA: USO) traded up about 0.1%, at $11.64 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEARCA: OIH) traded up about 0.8% at $24.22 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.