U.S. oil inventories spiked during the week ended Dec. 4 as petroleum demand only ticked up slightly and remained below year-earlier levels amid new economic restrictions imposed to slow coronavirus outbreaks, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
In its Weekly Petroleum Status Report (WPSR), EIA said Wednesday U.S. commercial crude oil inventories, excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased by 15.2 million bbl from the previous week on robust imports. That followed a draw of 700,000 bbl a week earlier.
“After steady declines since July, total crude and product stocks increased by the highest total since the week ending April 17, due primarily to a high level of crude imports,” analysts at Clearview Energy Partners said. Exports also dropped nearly 50% during the covered week.
Raymond James & Associates said the latest inventories report surprised analysts. The consensus was for a draw of 1.4 million bbl, the firm noted, while historical averages show a normal draw of around 2.2 million bbl for the comparable week.
The United States became a net petroleum importer last week as both net crude imports and net product imports increased from the prior reporting period. Crude imports increased week/week by 1.1 million bbl/d to 6.5 million bbl/d, while exports dropped more than 1.6 million bbl/d.
At 503.2 million bbl, U.S. crude inventories are about 11% above the five-year average for this time of year, EIA said.
Crude storage is now at its highest level since August, noted Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities USA LLC. Crude storage reached a record high of 540.7 million bbl in the week ended June 19 following the demand destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic last spring.
Yawger said, however, that neither the surge in oil imports or drop in exports signaled mounting trends, and he expected a pull from crude oil storage with next week’s report. “I will probably be looking for something like a draw of 5 million” bbl, he said.
The agency said gasoline inventories increased by 4.2 million bbl last week and were about 5% above the five-year average. Distillate fuel inventories increased by 5.2 million bbl and were 11% above average, while propane/propylene inventories decreased by 4.1 million bbl and were 4% above average. Total commercial petroleum inventories increased by 19.9 million bbl last week, EIA said.
Total petroleum product demand, meanwhile, increased 0.4% last week after declining nearly 4% a week earlier. On a year/year basis, demand was up 0.9%, marking the first year/year increase since the week ending March 6, according to the Clearview analysts. “That said,” they added, “the comparison week of 2019 had the lowest demand level of that year.”
Drivers of the year/year demand gain were propane/propylene, up 121%, and other oils, up 35%, while jet fuel use was off 17% and gasoline consumption was down 14%.
On a four-week moving average basis, however, demand was down 7.4% year/year.
Following the latest WPSR, West Texas Intermediate oil prices at 2 p.m. ET were down about 0.3% to $45.46.
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