Crude Oil Price Dips on Record Inventory Levels

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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 9.5 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 518.1 million barrels, the highest level since the EIA began keeping records in 1982. The commercial crude inventory remained 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 9.9 million barrels in the week ending February 10. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 720,000 barrels and distillate inventories increased by 1.5 million barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 3.2 million barrels in crude inventories and a rise of 1.2 million barrels in gasoline and distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 2.8 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and also remain above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged over 8.4 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 5.3% compared with the same period a year ago.

Now that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed that the promised crude oil production cuts met 90% of their reductions in January, investors and traders are beginning to look ahead to a possible extension of the cuts beyond the agreed six-month period ending in June.

By most estimates, global inventories already have begun to decline slightly and will continue to be drained if producers continue to observe their promised reductions. There are a couple of things to consider. First, if prices continue to rise as the producers maintain compliance with their production levels, the historical evidence indicates that compliance becomes a little less important and some cheating occurs.

Second, if the cuts are not extended beyond June, production could jump back up by a million barrels a day virtually overnight. The July to September quarter typically sees U.S. demand for crude rise by 840,000 barrels a day compared with demand in the January to March quarter. Demand also rises sharply in the Middle East as the summer heat drives up demand for electricity for air conditioning. The third quarter is also the time of year when producers in the North Sea reduce production in order to perform maintenance.

In the crude markets the effect will be to eliminate the desire to store crude for future delivery at a higher price because the current spot price will be either equal to or higher than the futures price. In market terms, the futures and options markets will flip from contango to backwardation.

If U.S. production rises, if the OPEC and non-OPEC producers cheat, or if demand declines, inventory drawdowns will slow down and traders may once again have an incentive to store oil rather than sell it on the spot market. Rebalancing the crude oil market is an iffy business and definitely not a place for amateurs.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for March delivery traded down about 0.2% at around $53.15 a barrel and slipped to $52.96 after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $53.20 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on March futures is $39.20 to $56.24.

Distillate inventories fell by 700,000 barrels last week and remain above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 3.8 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 7.4% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 4.5 million barrels a day last week, down about 300,000 barrels compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 8.5 million barrels a day, down by about 881,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 85.4% of capacity, with daily input averaging 15.5 million barrels, about 435,000 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 $2.284, up from $2.266 a week ago and up more than a nickel compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.697 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 0.2%, at $82.65 in a 52-week range of $79.67 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 2.2% and is down about 20% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 0.4%, at $113.03 in a 52-week range of $82.90 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added nearly 32% over the past 12 months and also trade down nearly 16% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up about 0.5%, at $11.44 in a 52-week range of $8.14 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 1% to $33.40, in a 52-week range of $22.73 to $36.35.