Crude-oil futures fell Thursday (Feb. 23), holding ground under $61 a barrel as U.S. inventories of oil, gasoline, and distillates remained well above the year-ago level.
“The ample supply of stocks for all energy products should continue to place downward pressure on prices in the near term,” said Rakesh Shankar, an economist at Moody’s Economy.com.
At midday, crude for April delivery was last trading down 91 cents at $60.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after falling as low as $60. The contract closed almost 3% lower on Wednesday as attention swung away from the world’s trouble spots – Iran, Nigeria and Ecuador – to focus on supplies.
Earlier Thursday, the Energy Department reported a 1.1 million-barrel increase in crude supplies for the week ended Feb. 17. That figure met with general market expectations. Stocks had climbed 4.9 million the previous week.
The latest tally stands at 326.7 million – 9.9% above the year-ago level, the government said.
In contrast, the American Petroleum Institute said supplies of the energy commodity actually fell 1.4 million barrels to 327.5 million.
Motor gasoline supplies rose 100,000 barrels last week to 225.6 million – 0.9% above the year-ago level, the Energy Department said. It was the fuel’s eighth-straight week of climbing inventories. Most analysts had expected a climb of around 1 million.
The API, however, reported a 1.9 million-barrel decline in the stocks to total 217.8 million.
Against this backdrop, March unleaded gasoline climbed 2.8 cents at $1.5025 a gallon. March heating oil climbed 1.39 cents at $1.666 a gallon.
The mixed data on the petroleum supplies follow an increase in refinery capacity utilization to 86.6% last week from 86.1% the previous week, according to the Energy Department.
“After a relatively swift recovering following the devastating hurricanes late last year, refinery utilization moderated sharply since the beginning of this year, and is yet to meaningfully recover,” said Shankar.