Energy Economy

Crude Oil Price Bounces Higher as Inventory Dips

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning, showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories dropped by 3.3 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 463.2 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 3.5 million barrels in the week ending August 18. API also reported gasoline supplies added 1.4 million barrels and distillate inventories rose by 2.1 million barrels. For the same period, an S&P Platts Global survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 3.7 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 1.3 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 500,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 1.2 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain near the upper limit of the five-year average range. U.S. refineries produced about 10.6 million barrels of gasoline a day last week, up by about 600,000 barrels a day compared to the prior week. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s proxy for demand) averaged 9.7 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 0.4% compared with the same period a year ago.

From December highs of around $53 a barrel, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices have fallen about 12%, but that has not had a chilling effect on the amount that U.S. production companies plan to spend on drilling and completion services this year. In 2016, exploration and production capital spending totaled $39 billion among companies tracked by RBN Energy.

Initial estimates of 2017 capex totaled $55.78 billion, an increase of 43%. In its most recent survey of 2017 capital spending, RBN estimates that planned capex will fall by about $1 billion to $54.75 billion, still a 40% year-over-year increase.

The surge in 2017 capex arrived on the back of the higher December prices that encouraged producers to boost their hedging. Many producers have more than half of 2017 production hedged at more than $50 a barrel. That means that even if prices remain at around $47 or $48, profits are guaranteed. Some producers even hedged some of their 2018 production when prices were at their recent peaks.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for October delivery traded up about 0.1% at around $47.77 a barrel, and it traded up at $47.82 shortly after the report’s release. WTI prices bounced higher to around $47.92 a barrel within 10 minutes. WTI settled at $47.83 on Tuesday and opened at $47.64 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on October futures is $42.52 to $58.34.

Distillate inventories were unchanged last week and remain in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged over 4.2 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 14.4% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 5.1 million barrels a day last week, down about 200,000 barrels a day from the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 8.8 million barrels a day, up by 664,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 95.4% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 17.5 million barrels a day, about 104,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average. Analysts were looking for refinery usage of 95.5% for the week.

Crude oil exports rose to 936,000 barrels a day last week, up by 59,000 barrels over the prior week and 259,000 barrels more than at the same time last year. The cumulative daily average export total last week was 773,000 barrels a day, up from 474,000 barrels a day in the same week a year ago, an increase of 63.2%.

Refining runs of 17.5 million less imports of 8.8 million and domestic production of 9.53 million barrels a day last week continue to imply that stockpiles are not 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 $2.344, down less than a penny from $2.347 a week ago and up about six cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.177 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 about flat, at $76.75 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 12.5%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 0.5%, at $106.93 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are up about 5.2% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) also traded up about 0.2%, at $9.79 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded up about 0.6%, at $22.07 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.

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