Crude Oil Inventory Surges to 80-Year High

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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 5.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 387.8 million barrels. Crude inventories are at their highest level for this time of year in at least the past 80 years.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 3.2 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 9.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 7.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Distillate inventories increased by 2.9 million barrels last week, but they remain in the lower half of the average range. Distillate product supplied averaged more than 3.8 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 7.8% when compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.1 million barrels a day last week, about 100,000 barrels a day less than the prior week’s production.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 3.9 million barrels in the week ending January 9. Gasoline inventories rose 1.6 million barrels in the week, according to API, and distillate stocks were up 416,000 barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 1.8 million barrels in crude inventories.

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Before the EIA report, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for February delivery was trading up about 1% at around $46.05 a barrel Wednesday morning. The WTI price slipped to around $45.65 (down about 0.8% for the day) immediately after the report was released. Crude set a 52-week low of $44.20 on the NYMEX Tuesday. The 52-week high is $101.33.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 7.5 million barrels a day, up by 636,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 91% of capacity, with daily input of 15.9 million barrels a day, about 527,000 barrels a day below the previous week’s average.

The sharp rises in inventories of crude oil, gasoline and distillates virtually guarantee that prices have nowhere to go but down. Refinery utilization was down again last week, as the posted price for WTI crude ended the week at $44.75. The price had dropped to $42.25 as of Tuesday morning.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.101, down from $2.191 a week ago and from $2.559 a month ago. Last year a gallon of regular cost $3.308 on average in the United States. The EIA estimates that an average U.S. household can expect to spend about $750 less for gasoline in 2015 than it did in 2014. The agency also estimated that regular gas will cost an average of $2.33 a gallon in 2015, rising to $2.72 in 2016.

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

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 0.7%, at $17.50 in a 52-week range of $17.10 to $39.44. The low was set earlier in the morning.

The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1%, at $32.27 in a 52-week range of $32.10 to $58.01. The low was set earlier Wednesday morning as well.