Oil Futures Rally as Supplies Fall From Record High

By Nicole FriedmanDow Jones Newswires

NEW YORK--Oil futures climbed to a one-week high Wednesday after government data showed an unexpected drop in crude-oil supplies.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery settled up $1.27, or 1.3%, at $100.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since April 29. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange rose $1.07, or 1%, to $108.13 a barrel.

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U.S. oil stocks fell by 1.8 million barrels to 397.6 million barrels last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday. Analysts had expected stocks to rise by 1.2 million barrels, according to a Wall Street Journal survey, which would have placed inventories at their highest level since the EIA began tracking weekly data in 1982.

Though refinery utilization fell by 0.8 percentage point to 90.2% of capacity, versus expectations that it would rise by 0.4 percentage point, the utilization rate was still the highest for the first week of May since 2006.

Refinery runs have been higher than average in recent weeks amid strong demand for gasoline from U.S. and overseas drivers.

"Refinery utilisation is running comparatively high for this time of year," wrote BNP Paribas SA analysts in a note. "High runs have moderated the upward trend in crude inventories."

The amount of crude stored in Cushing, Okla., slid for a fourth week, down 1.4 million barrels to 24 million barrels, the lowest level since 2008.

Oil has been backed up in Cushing for years owing to a lack of shipping capacity, but a pipeline that opened in January has transported oil out of Cushing to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Analysts have said supplies at the key storage hub are nearing the minimum amount necessary for operations.

Crude-oil imports also fell, especially in the Gulf Coast, where commercial imports to the region slid to the lowest level since 2008.

Gulf Coast supplies declined from record highs, dropping by 1.9 million barrels in the week.

"If the Gulf Coast (supply level) has in fact peaked, then we could see a little firmness" in oil prices, said Dominick Chirichella, analyst at the Energy Management Institute.

However, some analysts suggested the drop in imports could be a one-week aberration.

As U.S. supplies of light, sweet crude oil have grown, "light, sweet crudes from West Africa have been backed out, but Saudi, Mexican and Venezuelan imports have been more stubborn," wrote Citigroup analysts in a note. "It remains to be seen whether these lower import levels can be sustained."

Gasoline stockpiles rose 1.6 million barrels to 213.2 million barrels, the EIA said in its weekly report. Analysts had expected a 100,000-barrel increase.

Distillate stocks, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, fell by 447,000 barrels to 114 million, compared with analyst estimates of an increase of 1.2 million barrels.

Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled up 3.24 cents, or 1.1%, to $2.9182 a gallon. June diesel rose 3.98 cents, or 1.4%, to $2.9275 a gallon, a one-week high.