Crude Oil Price Flat After Inventory Decline on Strong Export Volume

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning, showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories dropped by 8.9 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 466.5 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remained in the upper half of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories dropped by 9.16 million barrels in the week ending August 11. API also reported gasoline supplies added 300,000 barrels and distillate inventories fell by 2.1 million barrels. For the same period, an S&P Platts Global survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 3.6 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 400,000 barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 700,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories remained unchanged last week, according to the EIA, and have moved to near the upper limit of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced over 10 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, down by about 300,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged over 9.7 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 0.3% compared with the same period a year ago.

The price of benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil dropped 2.5% last week and is down about 4.6% from last Thursday’s high of just over $50 a barrel. Production, particularly from U.S. shale plays, is simply not dropping fast enough.

According to the EIA’s drilling productivity report released Monday, production in the month of August from seven major U.S. onshore shale plays will rise by 113,000 barrels a day to 6.03 million. September production is forecast to rise by an additional 117,000 to 6.15 million barrels a days.

If there is any silver lining in any of this for U.S. producers it is that production from newly drilled wells is expected to decline by 10 barrels per well per day in September. If around 200 wells are added in the month, that’s a decline of 2,000 barrels a day from new wells. It doesn’t sound like much, but production declines have to start somewhere.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for September delivery traded up about 0.4% at around $47.75 a barrel, and it traded at $47.80 shortly after the report’s release. WTI prices bounced down to around $47.63 a barrel within 10 minutes. WTI settled at $47.55 on Tuesday and opened at $47.72 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on September futures is $42.29 to $58.36.

Distillate inventories increased by 700,000 barrels last week and remain in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 4.3 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 15.9% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.3 million barrels a day last week, roughly the same as the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 8.1 million barrels a day, up by 364,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 96.1% of capacity, with daily input averaging 17.6 million barrels a day, about 9,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average. Analysts were looking for refinery usage of 95.7% for the week.

Crude oil exports rose to 877,000 barrels a day last week, up by 170,000 over the prior week and 200,000 more than at the same time last year. The cumulative daily average export total last week was 768,000 barrels a day, up from 467,000 in the same week a year ago, an increase of 64%.

Refining runs of 17.6 million less imports of 8.1 million and domestic production of 9.5 million barrels a day last week continue to imply that stockpiles may not be falling fast enough to push prices higher before the summer driving season ends.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.347, down just over a penny from $2.359 a week ago and up almost nine cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.125 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 0.1%, at $77.93 in a 52-week range of $77.68 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 11%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up less than 0.1%, at $107.50 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are up about 5.8% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) also traded up less than 0.1%, at $9.75 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.1% to $22.32, in a 52-week range of $22.50 to $36.35.