Crude Oil Price Soars on OPEC Deal, Inventory Change Not a Factor

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories decreased by 900,000 barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 488.1 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory is now near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories fell by 720,000 barrels in the week ending November 25. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 3.36 million barrels and distillate inventories rose by 2.24 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated a decrease of 577,000 barrels in crude inventories along with a rise of 1.7 million barrels in gasoline supplies, and an increase of 1.45 million barrels of distillates as well.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 2.1 million 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 9.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

Crude oil prices soared early Wednesday morning on reports that Saudi Arabia had reached a deal with Iran regarding Iran’s production total under an agreement among OPEC members to cut production to around 32.5 million barrels a day.

Shortly before the EIA report was released, The Wall Street Journal reported that the 14 members of OPEC had agreed to cut production by more than 1 million barrels a day. The cut would reduce OPEC production from around 33.6 million barrels a day to around 32.4 million barrels a day, a reduction of just over 1% of the global daily total.

The 8% price spike we’ve seen today is almost certainly due to short covering in the futures market. As of November 22, hedge funds and other managed money speculators had reduced their short position to 179,067 short contracts compared with 333,888 long contracts. Market participants, including producers, also reduced their short positions last week, but today’s price spike may encourage them to put a floor under the price they want to receive by adding to their short contracts.

One last point on the OPEC agreement: if four decades of cartel-behavior is any guide, this new agreement will be honored more in the breach than in the observance. Saudi Arabia had to give more than it planned in order to get Iran on board and to save face by getting the group to agree to a cut that was initially floated in September but that the Saudis would really have rather seen go higher. While the agreed cut is something, it’s really not much, especially if U.S. shale producers jump back into the fray.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for January delivery traded up about 8% at around $48.60 a barrel and did not move much after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $45.23 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on January futures is $34.55 to $53.72.

Distillate inventories increased by 5 million barrels last week and remain well above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged 4 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 4.1% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 5.2 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 7.5 million barrels a day, down by about 30,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 89.8% of capacity, with daily input averaging 16.3 million barrels, about 114,000 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 $2.150, up from $2.131 a week ago and down more than six cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.040 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 up about 1.9%, at $87.50 in a 52-week range of $71.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up more than 5% and is down almost 17% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 2.2%, at $111.70 in a 52-week range of $75.33 to $112.69. As of the most recent close, Chevron shares have added nearly 20% over the past 12 months and trade down more than 18% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up around 7.2%, at $10.773 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $13.03.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 7.4% to $31.75, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $31.954. The high was posted earlier this morning.