(Reuters) – U.S. gasoline inventories jumped to a record high in the most recent week even as refiners cut back activity, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday, while crude stocks rose sharply.
Gasoline stocks rose for an eighth consecutive week, by 4.1 million barrels to a record 259.6 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.7 million-barrel gain.
Crude inventories rose by 8 million barrels in the week to Jan. 18, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decline of 42,000 barrels.
Refining output pulled back in the most recent week after a period where refineries have been running at high capacity to meet seasonal needs for diesel and heating oil and to feed export demand. But that has produced a glut of gasoline that could potentially spur refiners to back off in coming weeks and as heating oil season recedes.
Gasoline futures dipped on the news, falling 0.2 percent to $1.383 a gallon. U.S. crude futures were modestly higher, however, causing the refining margin, or crack spread, for gasoline, to fall by 5 percent.
“Gasoline demand remains anemic, causing a further rise in those inventories. U.S. crude oil production remains near record levels, as well,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital Management in New York.
U.S. crude oil futures gained 24 cents to $52.86 a barrel as of 11:24 a.m. EST, while Brent lost 18 cents to $60.96 a barrel.
Refinery crude runs fell by 174,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 1.7 percentage points, but remain relatively strong, running at 92.9 percent of capacity.
“It says less product will be coming down the pipe but we are already dealing with very high inventories in gasoline and distillates for this time of year,” said Donald Morton, who runs an energy trading desk at investment banking firm H.J. Sims & Co.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 617,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 229,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Net U.S. crude imports rose last week by 1.6 million bpd.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 190,000 barrels, EIA said.
Reporting By David Gaffen and Stephanie Kelly; Additional report by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Susan Thomas