Energy Economy

Crude Oil Inventory Soars, Price Drops Below $50 a Barrel

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Thursday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 4.9 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 474 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remains at historically high levels for this time of year, according to the EIA.

Wednesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 2.7 million barrels in the week ending October 7. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 700,000 barrels and distillate inventories saw a drop of 4.5 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 650,000 barrels in crude inventories along with a drop of 1.5 million barrels in gasoline supplies and a decrease of 1.6 million barrels of distillates.

Total gasoline inventories fell by 1.9 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged 9.3 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 2.3% compared with the same period a year ago.

In the seven-day period ending October 4, speculators (hedge funds and other money managers) increased their net long positions in the three main West Texas Intermediate and Brent futures and options contracts by a record 142,000 contracts. Each contract is equal to 1,000 barrels, so net long positions added 142 million barrels to their rolls.

The buying spree was set off by the OPEC announcement that the cartel will reduce production from a record high 33.4 million barrels a day to between 32.5 million and 33.0 million barrels a day. The big question mark is whether the Saudis engineered a short squeeze on speculators, forcing them to close their short positions and then buy back those same paper barrels at a higher ($5 to $6 per barrel higher) price.

There was room left to run through the next reporting day, October 11, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) commitment of traders report due out Friday could show another move into long positions. Spot prices already have begun to moderate after hitting a multi-month peak of around $51.50 on Monday.

Meanwhile, in the physical market for crude, the U.K.’s Express newspaper reported Wednesday that there’s a lot of oil on the high seas with no place to go:

Hundreds of oil tankers are being forced to turn back to their point of origin or simply park in the middle of the sea because of a shortage in fuel storage facilities across the US and Europe, creating a logjam of vessels in some of the world’s busiest shipping channels.

Analysis by of the Gulf of Mexico and the waters surrounding Singapore show dozens of vessels idling as they wait to unload their cargo.

According to the report, a full day’s worth of global consumption, some 96 million barrels, is loaded in tankers still looking for buyers. Physical reality may yet put a damper on enthusiasm for paper barrels.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for November delivery traded up two cents at around $50.20 a barrel and tumbled to around $49.74 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $50.18 on Wednesday. The 52-week range on November futures is $34.10 to $53.39.

Distillate inventories decreased by 3.7 million barrels last week but remain above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.8 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, down by 3.5% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 4.5 million barrels a day last week, down about 200,000 compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 7.9 million barrels a day, up by 151,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 85.5% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 15.6 million barrels, about 480,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average. Refinery runs rose a couple of points this past week, but runs remain low as maintenance and turnaround continue.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.253, up from $2.246 a week ago and up more than eight cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.309 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 down about 1.8%, at $85.56 in a 52-week range of $71.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 9.9% and is down nearly 16% since August 2014, as of Wednesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 2.3%, at $99.77 in a 52-week range of $75.33 to $107.58. As of the most recent close, Chevron shares have added more than 14% over the past 12 months, and they trade down more than 23% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down around 1.3%, at $11.28 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $15.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1% to $29.70, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $32.78.