Crude Oil Price Slips Following Inventory Report

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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 5.6 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 448.1 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 5.5 million barrels in the week ending December 1. API also reported gasoline supplies jumped by 9.2 million barrels and distillate inventories increased by 4.3 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 3 million barrels in crude inventories, a rise of about a million barrels in gasoline and an increase of 1.74 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 6.8 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain in the middle of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced about 9.8 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, down about 400,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged 9.1 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.5% compared with the same period last year.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for January delivery traded down about 1.1% at around $56.83 a barrel, and it inched up to around $56.95 after the report’s release but slipped to around $56.77 minutes later. WTI settled at $57.62 on Tuesday and opened at $57.45 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on January futures is $43.39 to $59.05.

Last week’s announcement from OPEC and its allies that production cuts would continue through to the end of 2018 had already been priced into crude. The agreement will be revisited ahead of the June OPEC meeting and non-OPEC participants in the production agreement may decide to bail at that time.

The cartel has still not indicated how it plans to manage a return to the higher production rates of 2015 without undercutting the price increases it will have worked for two years to generate.

The other wild card is whether higher prices will encourage more drilling in U.S. shale plays. So far companies have chosen to hedge at the higher prices rather than drill as they try to return to positive cash flow. But if prices top their hedged positions, that could push U.S. producers into more drilling.

Week over week, U.S. crude oil exports slipped by 54,000 barrels a day last week and U.S. production rose by 25,000 barrels a day. Exports averaged 1.36 million barrels a day last week and have a cumulative daily average for the year of 943,000 barrels a day, a 98% increase over the year-ago export total.

Distillate inventories increased by 1.7 million barrels last week and remained in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.9 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.6% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.4 million barrels a day last week, up about 100,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 7.2 million barrels a day, down by 127,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 93.8% of capacity, with daily input averaging 17.2 million barrels a day, about 192,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Exports of refined products fell by 875,000 barrels a day last week to 5.04 million barrels a day.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.478, down about two cents from $2.499 a week ago and up about five 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.

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 less than 0.1%, at $82.90 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 5.1%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.2%, at $120.10 in a 52-week range of $102.55 to $122.30. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are trading up about 6.4% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA: USO) traded down about 1.5%, at $11.37 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEARCA: OIH) traded down about 1.3%, at $24.66 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.