Crude Oil Price Plunges on Surprise Inventory Growth

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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 1.7 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 521.1 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remains at historically high levels for this time of year, according to the EIA.

A combination of rising gasoline inventories and small, but steady, increases in the U.S. onshore rig count continue to weigh on crude prices. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for September delivery dipped to a low of $42.51 early Wednesday morning, nearly 1% below its closing price on Tuesday.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories fell by 827,000 barrels in the week ending July 15. API also reported gasoline supplies decreased by 423,000 barrels and distillate supplies rose by 292,000 barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated a decrease of around 2.3 million barrels in crude inventories, along with a rise of 36,000 barrels in gasoline supplies and a 714,000-barrel increase in distillates.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 500,000 barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain well above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged about 9.8 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 2.6% compared with the same period a year ago.

Earlier this week, James Mick, managing director and portfolio manager at energy investment firm Tortoise Capital Advisors noted:

Concerns seem to be centered on a potential gasoline inventory glut despite peak seasonal demand. The narrative is based on the warm winter weather and resultant weak diesel cracks forcing refiners earlier in the year to shift away from the normal seasonal diesel production and instead favor gasoline. The result was a build of gasoline and while demand has been strong, it has not been enough to overcome the negative sentiment.

Despite concerns, gasoline inventory levels are still within the five-year range and just a few days above normal on a days-supplied basis when factoring in the current higher level of overall demand. With refinery maintenance coming up in September, this definitely is something to watch for in regards to near-term crude oil prices.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for September delivery traded up about 0.5% at around $43.13 a barrel, and it tumbled to around $42.40 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $42.92 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on September futures is $32.85 to $54.91.

Distillate inventories decreased by 800,000 barrels last week and remain above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.7 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 0.2% when compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 4.9 million barrels a day last week, roughly flat compared with the prior week’s production of 5 million barrels.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 8.4 million barrels a day, up by about 303,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 92.4% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 16.6 million barrels, about 277,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.148, down from $2.194 a week ago and down about 16 cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.710 on average in the United States.

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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 0.5%, at $91.04 in a 52-week range of $66.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 14.9% and is down about 11.3% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.6%, at $102.12 in a 52-week range of $69.58 to $107.58. As of the most recent close, Chevron shares have added about 14.7% over the past 12 months and trade down about 23.1% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 1.8%, at $9.90 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $16.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 1.6% to $28.49, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $31.99.