Crude Oil Price Dips as Inventory Continues to Increase

November 9, 2016 by Paul Ausick

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 2.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 485 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remains near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 4.4 million barrels in the week ending November 4. API also reported gasoline supplies decreased by 3.6 million barrels and distillate inventories dropped by 4.3 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 1.1 million barrels in crude inventories along with a drop of 1 million barrels in gasoline supplies, and a decrease of 2.1 million barrels of distillates as well.

Total gasoline inventories dropped by 2.8 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and they remain well above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged 9.1 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 2.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

While crude oil prices are lower Wednesday morning, stock prices for independent oil and gas producers are almost uniformly higher. Some of the gains are due to third-quarter earnings reports that have mostly been positive, but some are also certainly due to the surprise election results from Tuesday that will put Republican Donald Trump in the White House next January.

Trump’s impact on the oil industry is likely to be positive for U.S. shale producers. Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, has been the president-elect’s main advisor on energy policy. What shale producers are likely to be angling for are increased access to federal lands that have been off-limits to exploration and an easier path to building pipelines to move oil from the shale fields to markets.

The big integrated companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron traded down Wednesday morning, likely due to uncertainty on how a Trump administration will affect the international oil market. Reuters analyst John Kemp writes:

In general, a Trump administration is likely to be much friendlier towards oil, gas and coal producers, and less receptive to arguments from renewable energy and clean technology firms.

Trump’s administration will pay closer attention to the concerns of the American Petroleum Institute and less to arguments from green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The rhetoric of energy policy will undergo a transformation as the focus shifts from climate change to energy security and affordability.

But it is much less clear how far and how fast energy policy will change in practice because the incoming administration will face formidable institutional constraints to its freedom of action and difficult policy trade-offs.

The Obama administration’s signature foreign policy, sanctions followed by an agreement with Iran, was made possible because the White House convinced other major powers to back the U.S. policy.

U.S. foreign policy has always been successful and powerful when it can rally allies, and weakest when the United States is isolated.

President-elect Trump may want to reverse all of the Obama administration’s domestic and international energy-related policies but in practice may find many of them difficult to alter.

Trump’s administration must still deal with the reality of climate change, sluggish global growth, concern about income inequality, and the rising power of China, all of which have challenged the Obama administration.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for December delivery traded down about 0.3% at around $44.85 a barrel, and it moved lower to around $44.65 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $44.98 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on December futures is $34.06 to $53.62.

Distillate inventories decreased by 1.9 million barrels last week but remain, well above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged more than 4 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 1% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 4.8 million barrels a day last week, up about 100,000 barrels compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 7.4 million barrels a day, down by about 1.6 million barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 87.1% of capacity, with daily input averaging over 15.8 million barrels, about 369,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Refinery utilization has begun to pick up again as the maintenance and turnaround period draws to a close.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.201, down from $2.211 a week ago and down more than five cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.215 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 about 0.9%, at $84.54 in a 52-week range of $71.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up more than 4% and is down about 17% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.8%, at $106.40 in a 52-week range of $75.33 to $108.19. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added more than 16% over the past 12 months and trade down nearly 20% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down around 0.5%, at $1005 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $14.09.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 1.3% at $28.55, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $31.60.