Crude, Fuel Inventories Move Up

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The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed an unexpected increase in crude inventories on the back of higher imports, while gasoline supplies rose for the fourth straight week. The agency’s report further revealed that distillate stocks posted a higher-than-expected build, as production hit record high. Meanwhile, refiners improved processing rates by 3.1%.

The Energy Information Administration ("EIA") Petroleum Status Report – which contains data for the previous week ending Friday, outlines information regarding the weekly change in petroleum inventories held and produced by the U.S., both locally and abroad.

The report provides an overview of the level of reserves and their movements, thereby helping investors understand the demand/supply dynamics of petroleum products. It is an indicator of current oil prices and volatility that affect businesses of companies engaged in the oil and refining industry, such as ExxonMobil (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP), Valero (VLO) and Tesoro (TSO).

Crude Oil

The federal government’s EIA report revealed that crude inventories rose by 1.34 million barrels for the week ending December 2, 2011, the second straight weekly gain.

Analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. (MHP), had expected oil stocks to go down some 1.3 million barrels. A rise in the level of imports led to the stockpile build-up with the world's biggest oil consumer even as refiners improved their utilization rates.

However, crude inventories at the Cushing terminal in Oklahoma – the key delivery hub for U.S. crude futures – came off 196,000 barrels from last week’s level to 31.1 million barrels. Stocks reached an all-time high of 41.90 million barrels earlier this year.

At 336.08 million barrels, current crude supplies are 5.6% lower than the year-earlier level, but are in the upper limit of the average for this time of the year. The crude supply cover was down from 22.9 days in the previous week to 22.7 days. In the year-ago period, the supply cover was 24.7 days.

Gasoline

Supplies of gasoline increased for the fifth time in six weeks as demand continued to lack luster. The 5.15 million barrels-build – much higher than projections – took gasoline stockpiles up to 214.99 million barrels. The existing inventory level is 0.5% above the year-earlier levels and is in the upper limit of the average range.

Distillate

Distillate fuel inventories (including diesel and heating oil) were up by 2.53 million barrels last week, compared with analyst expectations for a smaller build. The increase in distillate fuel supplies – for the second consecutive week – could be attributed to record production.

At 141.02 million barrels, distillate supplies are 12.0% below the year-ago level and are in the lower boundary of the average range for this time of the year.

Refinery Rates

Refinery utilization was up 3.1% from the prior week at 87.7%. Analysts were expecting the refinery run rate to increase 0.9% to 85.5%.

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