Oil up 3rd day in row as bulls defy U.S. crude build

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Oil up 3rd day in row as bulls defy U.S. crude build
Credit: © Reuters.

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com -- Oil prices rose for a third day in a row as bulls in the space were defiant on Wednesday to data showing a seventh straight build in weekly crude stockpiles amid rising production and falling exports.

Generous builds were also noted in inventories of gasoline and distillates in the Weekly Petroleum Status Report issued by the EIA, or Energy Information Administration, for the week ended Feb. 1. 

The rise in gasoline stockpiles raised questions about demand for the automotive fuel as warmer-than-usual winter weather should have, theoretically, seen more people get behind the wheel at this time of the year versus seasonal norms. The build in distillates is also bucking trends as demand for heating oil would be stronger now, if not for the unusually warm winter.

Notwithstanding these, oil prices rose more than 1% Wednesday as those long the trade tried to stay focused on impending demand from China, the world’s largest crude importer which has been off COVID-related restrictions since the start of the year — a development that should lead to more energy usage.

Oil bulls also ignored news that Turkey resumed crude-oil flows to the Mediterranean export terminal of Ceyhan late on Tuesday following two devastating earthquakes in the region. Operations at the 1 million barrel-per-day export terminal, which provides Azeri crude oil to international markets, were halted on Monday and were supposed to have remained shut until the end of Wednesday at least.

The only thing materially bullish for oil and other commodities on Wednesday was a weakening of the dollar, which experienced a modest drop. 

The dollar has been trying to find its footing since Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Tuesday that the Fed wished to give disinflation, which has just begun, a chance to work instead just resorting to higher interest rates to bring inflation hovering at 6.5% per annum to the central bank’s target of 2%. The dollar, however, got a morale boost on Wednesday when New York Fed President John Williams said U.S. interest rates need to stay high for ‘a few years’ to bring inflation down meaningfully.

By 13:30 ET (18:30 GMT), New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, crude for March was up $1.25, or 1.6%, to $78.39 per barrel.

The U.S. crude benchmark had risen more than 5% in the last two sessions after plunging 7.5% last week, to a three-week low of $73.11, on recession fears and the uncertainty about the direction for U.S. interest rates after huge employment gains among Americans in January threatened to bump up inflation again. 

London-traded Brent crude for March delivery was up $1.15, or 1.4%, to $84.84. The global crude benchmark rose just under 5% over the past two sessions, after tumbling 7.5% last week, to a three-week low of $79.62.

“I know everyone has their bias in oil but it’s interesting to see the longs trying to drive this thing up on a day when the EIA data has come completely at odds to the bullish projections made on oil,” said John Kildiuff, founding partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. “And for what it’s worth, we haven’t got commensurate Chinese data yet for the rally we’ve had this week.”

Chinese crude imports were assessed at 10.98M bpd, or barrels per day, in January, down from December's 11.37M bpd and November's 11.42M bpd, a recent Reuters report said. Part of the decline in Chinese imports was likely due to the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which fell on January 22 this year, the report said.

Analysts at ANZ, meanwhile, note the sharp jump in traffic in China’s 15 largest cities following the Lunar New Year holiday but also acknowledged that Chinese oil traders had been “relatively absent” from the market to aid in futures volumes.

In the Weekly Petroleum Status Report, the EIA said U.S. crude oil stockpiles had risen seven weeks in a row to 20-month highs as plant outages and weaker demand for fuels led to lower-than-usual refining activity at this time of the year.

Crude inventories rose by 2.423M barrels during the week ended February 1, the Energy Information Administration, or EIA, said in its Weekly Petroleum Status Report.

Industry analysts polled by U.S. media tracked forecast a build of 2.457M barrels on the average for last week, compared with the 4.14M-barrel rise during the previous week to January 27.

The EIA has reported a total crude build of almost 37M barrels over the past seven weeks.

That had led to crude stockpiles reaching their highest since June 2021, said the EIA, which serves as the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department.

Crude output itself rose by 100,000 barrels per day, or bpd, to reach 12.3M (NYSE: MMM ) bpd. That was the highest output since April 2020, when the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic then left production sky-high and demand rock-bottom. 

Crude exports, meanwhile, tumbled 17% on the week, to 2.9M bpd from 3.492M bpd the prior week.

On the gasoline inventory side, the EIA reported a build of 5M barrels, versus the forecast for a 1.271M-barrel rise and the previous week’s growth of 2.576M barrels.

Gasoline inventories have picked up by almost 16M barrels since 2023 began. Automotive fuel gasoline is America’s No. 1 fuel product.

Distillate stockpiles, meanwhile, rose by 2.932M barrels versus the expected build of 0.097M. In the previous week, there was a distillate build of 2.32M.

Until recently, distillates, which are refined into heating oil , diesel for trucks, buses, trains, and ships, and fuel for jets, were the strongest component of the U.S. petroleum complex in terms of demand. Prior to the build two weeks ago, distillate stockpiles had fallen by around 5M barrels over four weeks.

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