U.S. crude inventories rose unexpectedly last week as refineries sharply slowed production, while gasoline stocks soared amid weak demand, the Energy Information Administration said.
Crude inventories rose 2.3 million barrels in the week to Jan. 13, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 342,000 barrels.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures, however, fell by 1.3 million barrels, EIA said.
Traders said the Cushing draw helped support oil prices, which pared gains after the data. U.S. crude and Brent tumbled to session lows of $51.24 and $54.05 per barrel respectively after the data.
Refinery crude runs fell 639,000 barrels per day as utilization rates dropped 2.9 percentage points to 90.7 percent of total refining capacity, EIA data showed.
Refinery runs dropped precipitously amid seasonal maintenance, leading crude inventories to build despite lower imports, said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData in Louisville, Kentucky.
U.S. crude imports fell last week by 651,000 bpd.
Gasoline stocks surged 6 million barrels, three times more than analysts’ expectations, with inventories on the U.S. East Coast gasoline hitting their highest weekly levels for this time of year on record, the data showed.
“The 6 million-barrel build in gasoline inventories was not full confirmation of the big 9.8 million-barrel jump in API (the American Petroleum Institute) stocks, but it was still more than expected and above the 3.9-million barrel five-year average,” Tim Evans, Citi Futures’ energy futures specialist, said in a note.
“Weak demand offset lower refinery output last week,” he added.
Gasoline demand over past four weeks was 8.57 million bpd, down 2.4 pct from a year-ago and gasoline output fell 713,000 bpd to 8.95 million bpd last week, the EIA said.
The U.S. gasoline futures crack spread, a key metric in measuring refiner margins, was down as much as 5.3 percent at $13.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the data. That was the lowest level since Dec. 14.
U.S. gasoline futures also fell, sinking to a session low of $1.5365 a gallon, the lowest since Dec. 16.
In contrast, distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 1.0 million barrels, versus expectations for a 162,000-barrel increase, the EIA data showed.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy)