Crude Oil Price Plunges, Rebounds Following Huge Build in Inventories

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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 4.1 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 483.1 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory has reached 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 1.5 million barrels in the week ending January 6. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 1.7 million barrels and distillate inventories jumped by 5.5 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 1.2 million barrels in crude inventories, a rise of 1.7 million barrels in gasoline stockpiles and an increase of 900,000 barrels in distillates.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 5 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and also have reached the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged 8.9 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, up by 0.7% compared with the same period a year ago.

Energy industry analysts at Wood Mackenzie said in a news release Wednesday morning that the firm expects global upstream spending to rise by 3% to $450 billion in 2017. Not much, but far better than the average 20% spending cutbacks in each of the past two years.

U.S. tight oil (shale) plays will be at the “forefront of the revival” as costs continue to fall. However capital spending (capex) already has wrung out so much cost that expenses can only decline by an average of 3% to 7%.

Exploration budgets are expected to be flat with 2016 at around $40 billion, with lower costs keeping new well drilling counts flat year over year. It is also likely good news for employees who may feel more job security going forward.

Wood Mackenzie reported that new discoveries totaled just 3.7 billion barrels of conventional (non-shale) crude in 2016, the lowest total since 1952, according to Bloomberg, and 14% below 2015 new discoveries. Between 1950 and 2014, the yearly average for new discoveries was 10 times that amount.

The number of final investment decisions is expected to more than double year over year in 2017, from nine last year to 20 this year. Though well short of the 2010 through 2014 average of 40 a year, capex per barrel of oil equivalent has dropped from $17 in 2014 to just $7.

Capex on U.S. tight oil is expected to rise to $63 billion, and Wood Mackenzie also expects global offshore spending to rise, but based on projected internal rates of return, about half the 40 larger deepwater projects fail to reach a 15% return with oil at $60 a barrel.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for February delivery traded up about 1.2% at around $51.35 a barrel and slipped to $50.94 after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $50.82 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on February futures is $35.10 to $55.44.

Distillate inventories increased by 8.4 million barrels last week and remain above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.6 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 7.5% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 5.3 million barrels a day last week, flat compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 9.1 million barrels a day, up by about 1.9 million barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 93.6% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 17.1 million barrels, about 418,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.361, up from $2.353 a week ago and up more than 15 cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.965 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 0.9%, at $86.70 in a 52-week range of $71.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 15% and is down about 16.7% since August 2014, as of Wednesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 0.8%, at $115.83 in a 52-week range of $75.33 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added about 25% over the past 12 months and also trade down about 10.5% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up about 1.7%, at $11.26 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up 0.9% at $34.51, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $36.35.