Energy Economy

Crude Oil Price Plunges on Inventory Report

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 7.3 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 387.2 million barrels. Crude inventories remain well above the upper limit of the five-year range for this time of the year.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 4.1 million barrels last week and remain well above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the EIA’s measure of consumption) averaged over 9.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 4.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Distillate inventories increased by 2.3 million barrels last week and remain in the lower half of the average range. Distillate product supplied averaged about 3.9 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 3.1% when compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 5.2 million barrels a day last week, roughly flat with the prior week’s production.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 5.4 million barrels in the week ending December 19. The trade group also said gasoline stockpiles rose by 5.5 million barrels and distillate inventories rose by 1.1 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated a decrease of 1.8 million barrels.

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Before the EIA report, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for January delivery was trading down about 2.8% at around $55.60 a barrel Wednesday morning. The WTI price tumbled further to around $55.20 (down about 3.3% for the day) immediately after the report was released.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 8.3 million barrels a day, up by 1.2 million barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 93.5% of capacity, with daily input of over 16.3 million barrels a day, about 40,000 barrels a day above the previous week’s average.

The inventory declines for both crude and distillates reflects an essentially flat week for inventories. The second consecutive sharp jump in gasoline supplies, however, could indicate not only that U.S. demand is continuing to fall, but that overseas demand for U.S. refined products is cooling off as well.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.353, down from $2.505 a week ago and from $2.813 a month ago. Last year a gallon of regular cost $3.258 on average in the United States.

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Here is a look at how share prices for two exchange traded funds reacted to this latest report.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down nearly 3%, at $20.95 in a 52-week range of $20.53 to $39.44.

The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down nearly 2%, at $35.65 in a 52-week range of $33.54 to $58.01.