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Oil Rally Hits Speed Bump After Another Whopping US Gasoline Build

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By Barani Krishnan - The run-up in oil prices hit a speed bump on Thursday after another whopping build in U.S. gasoline stockpiles, which bulls in the market insisted will not be a rally-killer in a market focused on global demand and supply disruptions.

“I don't think the build in gasoline supplies is a bull killer,” Phil Flynn, a senior energy analyst at Chicago brokerage Price Futures Group and an avowed oil bull, said in a comment carried by Reuters.

“We're going to need refiners to continue to refine to meet gasoline demand in the summer driving seasons - that is one of the reasons the market is still supported despite the build in gasoline supplies," Flynn added.

Be that as it may, U.S. gasoline stocks rose almost 6 million barrels last week and ballooned by a record of around 24 million barrels over a three-week period amid seasonally-weak demand that contrasts with the rally in global oil prices, data from the Energy Information Administration showed Wednesday.

The data suggests that demand for gasoline has cratered since the end of holiday travels for the 2021 year-end.

U.S. refiners also appear to be turning a surfeit of crude into gasoline while the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was reducing some of the regular driving, work-commuting and other activities that required fuels.

“Gasoline consumption is the weakest component of the entire U.S. oil complex now,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. “It’s one of the wackiest datasets amid the current oil rally, even after discounting the seasonally-weak January to March period for road travel.”

Automobile fuel gasoline, also known as petrol outside the United States, is America’s most-consumed oil product. Last week’s stockpile rise of 5.873 million barrels came on top of back-to-back previous builds of 7.961 million and 10.128 million barrels. On a longer time horizon, gasoline inventories have grown by around 37 million barrels over eight weeks, EIA data showed.

U.S. crude oil itself saw a stockpile rise for the first time in eight weeks, rising 515,000 barrels last week, after a 4.55 million decline the previous week. Crude stockpiles are down by just around 6 million barrels over the past three weeks, explaining only partly for the current balance of gasoline in the market.

U.S. inventories of oil distillates, which are refined into diesel for trucks, buses, trains and ships as well as fuel for jets, meanwhile fell by 1.431 million barrels last week after an increase of 2.54 million the previous week.

The West Texas Intermediate benchmark for U.S. crude settled down 6 cents, or 0.1%, at $86.90 per barrel.. WTI remains up almost 2% for the week, hitting a seven-year high of $87.91 in the previous session.

London-traded Brent, the global benchmark for oil, also settled down 6 cents, or 0.1%, at $88.38 per barrel. Brent remains up almost 2.5% for the week, after hitting a seven-year high of $89.48 earlier in Thursday’s session.

The global rally in crude prices coincides with years of under-investment in new oil exploration and production, with the impact showing now as demand normalizes two years into the coronavirus pandemic.

On top of the shortage in new oil, there is also the deliberate squeeze on regular output by producer alliance OPEC+ which continues to withhold from the market an estimated 4 million barrels daily from cuts of some 10 million barrels per day carried out during the height of the Covid-triggered demand destruction.

U.S. output, once the world’s largest with a pre-pandemic high of 13.1 million barrels daily, is now at under 12 million, thanks to unfriendly drilling policies of the Biden administration which wants renewable, green energy over fossils.

Last, but not least, oil prices are 60% higher now than a year ago because of the investment dollars gushing into crude in the name of inflation hedging. This week, geopolitical tensions arising from Houthi rebel attacks on the United Arab Emirates, a key OPEC+ producer, and a pipeline outage in Turkey contributed to higher prices.

(Additional reporting By Sam Boughedda)

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