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U.S. Crude Stocks Drop, Fuels Build

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The U.S. Energy Department's weekly inventory release showed that crude stockpiles logged another decline, as refiners scaled up their utilization rates. The report further revealed that refined product inventories – gasoline and distillate – increased from their previous week levels, as demand weakened.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) Petroleum Status Report, containing data of 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 the businesses of companies engaged in the oil and refining industry, such as ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP), Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) and Tesoro Corp. (TSO).

Analysis of the Data

Crude Oil: The federal government’s EIA report revealed that crude inventories fell by 2.36 million barrels for the week ending November 30, 2012, following a drop of 347,000 barrels in the previous week.

The analysts surveyed by Platts – the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. (MHP), had expected oil stocks to go down some 1.25 million barrels. An uptick in refinery utilization rates led to the stockpile drawdown with the world's biggest oil consumer even as imports rose.

In particular, crude inventories at the Cushing terminal in Oklahoma – the key delivery hub for U.S. crude futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange – edged down 226,000 barrels from the previous week’s level to 45.63 million barrels. Stocks are currently just under the all-time high of 47.78 million barrels reached in June.

At 371.77 million barrels, current crude supplies are 10.6% above the year-earlier level, and comfortably exceed the upper limit of the average for this time of the year. The crude supply cover was down from 25.2 days in the previous week to 24.7 days. In the year-ago period, the supply cover was 22.7 days.

Gasoline: Supplies of gasoline were up for the second time in as many weeks, as domestic consumption fell, while production and imports rose.

The 7.86 million barrels jump – far outpacing analysts’ projections for a 2 million barrels increase in supply level – took gasoline stockpiles up to 212.12 million barrels. However, notwithstanding this build, the existing inventory level of the most widely used petroleum product is still 1.4% off the year-earlier levels and is in the upper half of the average range.

Distillate: Distillate fuel supplies (including diesel and heating oil) gained 3.03 million barrels last week, much higher than analysts' expectations for an 800,000 barrels increase in inventory level. The sharp rise in distillate fuel stocks – the first in 4 weeks – could be attributed to weaker demand and improved production, partially offset by lower imports.

At 115.07 million barrels, distillate supplies are 18.4% below the year-ago level and are well under the lower limit of the average range for this time of the year.

Refinery Rates: Refinery utilization was up 2.0% from the prior week to 90.6%.

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