Energy Economy

Crude Oil Price Ignores Inventory Growth, Believes in OPEC Cuts

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 6.5 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 494.8 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 5.8 million barrels in the week ending January 27. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 2.9 million barrels and distillate inventories increased by 2.3 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 3.3 million barrels in crude inventories, a rise of 982,000 barrels in gasoline stockpiles and a decrease of 903,000 barrels in distillates.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 3.9 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 over 8.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 5.7% compared with the same period a year ago.

Both Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) have reported 2016 fourth-quarter and full-year earnings since the last EIA storage report. Both reports came in below the comparable periods of a year ago, and shares both have dropped about 3.5% since Chevron’s earnings were released last Friday.

Were it not for the reported success of the OPEC-led production cuts, the share price gains at the two U.S. supermajor oil companies’ since Friday likely would have been even larger.

Long bets in the futures and options markets are at (or near) record highs. Everyone is expecting prices to hit $55 and stick there, and maybe even move as high as $60.

Here is one cautionary thought: U.S. crude oil production has increased for the past two months as drilling resumes in the top shale plays and new projects in the Gulf of Mexico come online.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for March delivery traded up about 0.7% at around $53.12 a barrel, and it slipped to $53.05 after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $52.81 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on March futures is $38.10 to $56.24.

Distillate inventories rose by 1.6 million barrels last week and remain well 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 5% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 4.7 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 8.3 million barrels a day, up by about 480,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 88.2% of capacity, with daily input averaging over 15.9 million barrels, about 100,000 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 $2.276, down from $2.297 a week ago and down six cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.795 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 traded down about 0.9%, at $83.07 in a 52-week range of $73.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 10% and is down about 19% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron traded up about 0.1%, at $111.50 in a 52-week range of $79.85 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added more than 30% over the past 12 months and also trade down nearly 17% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up about 1.1%, at $11.45 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.3% to $33.25, in a 52-week range of $21.29 to $36.35.