Crude Oil Price Sinks as Inventory Drop Is Offset by Gasoline Stockpile

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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 5.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 457.8 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory has now dropped into the middle of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories dropped by 5.8 million barrels in the week ending August 25. API also reported gasoline supplies rose by 480,000 barrels and distillate inventories fell by 490,000 barrels. For the same period, an S&P Platts Global survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 1.5 million barrels in crude inventories, a decrease of 1.9 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 600,000 barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories were unchanged 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, also unchanged 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, up by 0.2% compared with the same period a year ago.

The impact of tropical storm Harvey does not figure heavily into last week’s totals. Refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast began shutting down operations on Friday and, as of Tuesday, about 20% of total U.S. refining capacity was offline. Houston-area refineries were all forced to close by Sunday. The 600,000 barrel a day Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, was completely shut down Wednesday after reducing production by 60% on Tuesday.

In a note this morning, analysts at Goldman Sachs warned about continuing difficulties in restarting Texas refineries:

The continued increase in flooding creates high uncertainty on the amount of damage that US refineries will incur, the pace at which the shut down will reverse and the magnitude of capacity that will be impaired over the next few months.

Offshore production of crude oil is being restarted, as has onshore production in the Eagle Ford Shale play. There is some concern that restarting these horizontal, fracked wells will not be as easy as flipping a switch. Tony Sanchez, chairman of Sanchez Energy, warned that restarting these wells may not result in the same levels of production that were recorded before the storm. He told The Wall Street Journal that once the shale wells are shut-in they could lose pressure: “There is significant risk in those wells not coming back to previous levels [of production].”

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for October delivery traded down about 0.6% at around $46.15 a barrel, and it traded down at $46.11 shortly after the report’s release. WTI prices sank further to around $45.90 a barrel within 10 minutes. WTI settled at $46.44 on Tuesday and opened at $46.31 Wednesday morning. The 52-week range on October futures is $42.52 to $58.34.

Distillate inventories rose 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 4.2 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 11.1% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 5.1 million barrels a day last week, unchanged compared to the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged 7.9 million barrels a day, down by 885,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 96.6% of capacity, with daily input averaging over 17.7 million barrels a day, about 264,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Analysts were looking for refinery usage of 95.1% for the week.

Crude oil exports slipped to 902,000 barrels a day last week, down by 34,000 barrels over the prior week and 204,000 barrels more than at the same time last year. The cumulative daily average export total last week was 777,000 barrels a day, up from 480,000 barrels a day in the same week a year ago, an increase of 61.7%. Both imports and exports of crude and refined products felt early effects last week from tropical storm Harvey.

Refining runs of 17.7 million less imports of 7.9 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 $2.404, up six cents, from $2.344 a week ago and up about nine cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.218 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 $76.27 in a 52-week range of $76.05 to $93.22. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 12.9%.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.5%, at $107.32 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares are up about 5.6% over the past 12 months.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) also traded down about 0.5%, at $9.41 in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $12.00.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.9%, at $21.98 in a 52-week range of $21.70 to $36.35.