Crude Oil Price Tumbled Early on Massive Addition to US 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 13.8 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 508.6 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory have now moved above 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 14.2 million barrels in the week ending February 3. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 2.9 million barrels and distillate inventories increased by 1.4 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 2.5 million barrels in crude inventories and a rise of 1.1 million barrels in gasoline stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 900,000 barrels last week, according to the EIA, but remain above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged over 8.3 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 6% compared with the same period a year ago.

The oil and gas industry is both pleased and wary of the new Trump administration. On one hand, the president forced the hand of the Army Corps of Engineers, which last night gave its approval to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. The president also has opened the door to a reconsideration of the Keystone XL pipeline.

On the other hand, the proposed border tax adjustment is not good news for the industry, which imports about 8 million to 9 million barrels of oil a day. The imports are primarily heavier crudes from Mexico and elsewhere that are combined with U.S.-produced light crudes and refined at Gulf Coast refineries. And light oils shipped by tanker from West Africa have recently become cost-competitive with Bakken crude delivered by rail to east coast refineries.

Trump issued other orders related to the environmental permitting processes for pipeline construction, the streamlining of the permitting process for pipeline manufacture and a six-month window for the U.S. Department of Commerce to prioritize the consumption of U.S. steel in the pipeline construction process.

The industry already gets a nice boost from getting a free ride on carbon emissions. In an interesting report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, Amir Jina, a postdoctoral scholar in the university’s economics department, estimates that the fossil fuel industry receives an annual hidden subsidy of $200 billion from U.S. citizens and taxpayers.

Jina’s calculation is based on the current cost to society of emitting an extra ton of carbon into the atmosphere:

The U.S. emitted 5.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2015, with a cost per ton of $36 (the current Social Cost of Carbon). That means the U.S. is paying $200 billion to cover the costs of all the emissions being burned. In effect, it’s a $200 billion hidden subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. This $200 billion is a cost in real money—in lost labor productivity, healthcare costs, increased energy expenditures, coastal damages—that is paid somewhere in the world for each ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted.

That’s more than an order of magnitude greater than the $15.4 billion in subsidies to promote clean energy and comes on top of an estimated $20 billion in direct fossil fuel subsidies.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for March delivery traded down about 0.7% to around $51.80 a barrel, and it slipped to $51.70 after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $52.17 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on March futures is $38.10 to $56.24.

Distillate inventories remained unchanged last week and are well above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.9 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 7.6% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 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 9.4 million barrels a day, up by about 1.1 million barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 87.7% of capacity, with daily input averaging 15.9 million barrels, about 54,000 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 $2.266, down from $2.276 a week ago and down more than a dime compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.739 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 0.9%, at $81.27 in a 52-week range of $77.58 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 3.4% and is down about 20% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.
  • Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.4%, at $110.94 in a 52-week range of $80.64 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added more than 34% over the past 12 months and also trade down nearly 17% since August 2014.
  • The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 0.6%, at $11.12 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $12.45.
  • The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1.7% to $31.96, in a 52-week range of $21.29 to $36.35.