Crude Oil Prices Tumble on Another Big Inventory Addition

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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 5 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 533.1 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remained at 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 4.5 million barrels in the week ending March 17. API also reported gasoline supplies decreased by 4.9 million barrels and distillate inventories decreased by 880,000 barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 2.1 million barrels in crude inventories, a decline of 2 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 1.7 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 2.8 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain near the upper half of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged about 9.1 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 2.9% compared with the same period a year ago.

In a research note cited Tuesday by Reuters, analysts at Goldman Sachs said that new projects and a second shale boom could boost U.S. crude oil output by a million barrels a day year over year in 2017. The boom is due to large investments made during the period from 2011 to 2013 in massive offshore projects.

The unintended consequence of the production cuts instituted by OPEC and 11 other oil-producing nations has been to “underwrite shale activity through a bullish credit market at a time when delayed delivery of the 2011-2013 capex boom could lead to record non-OPEC production growth in 2018.”

Goldman also has a suggestion for OPEC and its fellow producers:

U.S. shale oil currently offers large-scale development opportunities with 6-9 months to peak production. In this environment, OPEC’s rational decision is to leverage on its cost leadership to maximize market share, while managing short-term inventory imbalances.

Does that mean the sub-$40 a barrel oil is once more on the table?

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery traded down about 1% at around $47.69 a barrel and slipped to $47.50 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $48.24 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on May futures is $41.67 to $57.50.

Distillate inventories fell by 1.9 million barrels last week and remain in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged about 4.1 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 14.1% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 4.8 million barrels a day last week, up more than 100,000 barrels a day compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 8.3 million barrels a day, up by about 902,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 87.4% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 15.8 million barrels, about 329,000 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 $2.293, up slightly from $2.290 a week ago and up just over a penny compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.984 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 $81.66 in a 52-week range of $80.31 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 1.4% and is down about 17.2% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.1%, at $107.90 in a 52-week range of $92.25 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added about 13% over the past 12 months and trade down more than 19% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 1.6%, at $9.95 in a 52-week range of $8.99 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.3% to $30.02, in a 52-week range of $25.13 to $36.35.