Oil Gains After Stockpiles Show Larger-Than-Expected Drop

By Jenny W. Hsu and Justin Yang Features Dow Jones Newswires

Oil prices advanced Wednesday, after an industry group predicted that official data later in the day will show that U.S. inventories fell sharply last week.

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Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose 0.5% to $50.60 a barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were trading up 0.8% at $48.25 a barrel.

The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday estimated that U.S. supplies dropped by 10.2 million barrels in the week ended July 21. That is quadruple the drop projected in a Wall Street Journal survey for the official data from the Energy Information Administration that will be released later Wednesday.

The API's forecasts often vary significantly from the official data. But if the EIA data shows a similar decline to API's, prices will rise even more, said Michael McCarthy, an analyst at CMC Markets.

That comes as "oil prices are returning to a high level of volatility," he added.

Though prices are rising on less inventory, increased seasonal demand and reduced imports, the recent price bump is seen as a short-term trend, said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodity research at Commerzbank.

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"It doesn't change much in the longer-term situation of the market. The market is going to be over supplied," Mr. Weinberg said.

The EIA noted in a new report Tuesday that producers map out their oil-drilling plans based on cash flow. In the Permian shale play, where most of future U.S crude-output growth is expected to come from, operators have been able to "maintain positive cash flow because of lower costs, higher productivity and increased hedging activities."

That dynamic means the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries must devise a plan to keep prices at a level that isn't too encouraging for additional U.S. production, but still profitable enough for their own members, said Gao Jian, an analyst at SCI International. The group led an agreement to cut production by 2% of the daily global average this year, but the pact's effectiveness remains very much in question.

As a result, Saudi Arabia on Monday said not only will it reduce August exports by a million barrels a day versus year-earlier levels, but that the kingdom will also monitor export levels to gauge peers' compliance levels. As Iraq and Ecuador are producing more oil than the OPEC deal mandates, "cracks might start to emerge amongst the cooperating members, " said BMI Research.

Nymex reformulated gasoline blendstock--the benchmark gasoline contract--fell 0.03% to $1.57 a gallon. ICE gasoil changed hands at $466.50 a metric ton, up $4.75 from the previous settlement.

Write to Jenny W. Hsu at jenny.hsu@wsj.com

Oil prices rose Wednesday after U.S. data showing a larger-than-anticipated drop in the amount of crude in storage bolstered confidence that the oil market is tightening.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. oil stockpiles fell by 7.2 million barrels last week -- well above the 2.6 million barrel drop that analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had predicted.

Still, the decline fell short of the 10.2 million barrel draw that the American Petroleum Institute reported Tuesday, and oil's gains were slippery: U.S. crude futures rose as high as $48.87 before pulling back. U.S. crude for September delivery recently traded up 65 cents, or 1.36%, to $48.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark, rose 60 cents, or 1.2%, to $50.80 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

Oil prices are on track to settle at a two month high as investors are starting to come around to the idea that efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major exporters may actually be paying off.

"The market was in a wait and see mode -- waiting to see are the OPEC cuts really going to make a difference? Is $45 going to make an impact on U.S. crude production?" said Nick Koutsoftas, portfolio manager at Cohen & Steers.

And after months of false starts and crises of confidence that sent oil prices tumbling into bear market territory, investors are growing more comfortable that the answer to those questions is "yes."

More than 50 million barrels of oil been drained from U.S. storage tanks since the end of March, and commercial crude inventories are 7.1% below last year's levels. Fears that U.S. producers would swamp the glutted market with more oil are also starting to ease.

The EIA reported that U.S. oil production fell by 54,000 barrels a day last week, driven by a drop-off in Alaskan oil output.

"Is it possible we've maxed out? There is that possibility," said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc.

Demand figures have also been encouraging, analysts and traders said. The EIA reported that gasoline inventories fell by 1 million barrels last week.

Donald Morton, senior vice president at Herbert J. Sims & Co., who runs an energy-trading desk, said prices of different grades of oil around the world are moving closer together -- another sign of an increasingly tight market.

"Either the rebalancing is actually occurring, or the bets being made that it's going to occur," he said.

That is a shift from just a few weeks ago, when investors were questioning production cuts by OPEC and other major producers such as Russia were making a dent in a glut of oil that has weighed on the market for three years.

Saudi Arabia on Monday said not only will it reduce August exports by a million barrels a day versus year-earlier levels, but that the kingdom will also monitor export levels to gauge peers' compliance levels.

Still, many analysts and investors believe the oil-price recovery is still tentative.

"We're in a market where it takes four good data points to have a rally and only one to have it tank," said Dan Pickering, head of the asset management arm of Tudor, Pickering Holt & Co. "We're slowly convincing a skeptical market, but the data has to continue to come through."

Gasoline futures rose 0.78 cent, or 0.49%, to $1.6040 a gallon. Diesel futures rose 2.21 cents, or 1.41%, to $1.5906 a gallon.

--Jenny W. Hsu contributed to this article.

Write to Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 26, 2017 12:19 ET (16:19 GMT)