Oil Wavers on Mixed Inventory Data

By Alison Sider and Stephanie YangFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Oil prices wavered between gains and losses Wednesday morning as investors evaluated U.S. data showing that oil inventories fell but gasoline stockpiles grew last week.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the amount of oil in storage fell for the sixth straight week, dropping by 6.5 million barrels in the week ended Aug. 4. Taken as a sign that the global oil glut is easing, the steady depletion of crude inventories has pushed prices higher over the past month.

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U.S. crude futures recently traded up 9 cents, or 0.2%, at $49.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark rose 22 cents, or 0.4%, to $52.36 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

But the amount of gasoline in storage rose by 3.4 million barrels as refiners continued to churn out fuel at high rates, raising concerns about fuel demand as the summer wanes.

"Gasoline is a double blinking light for the whole complex," said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA. "They're making a lot of gasoline -- they're using a lot of crude, but at the same time, they're making a crazy amount of product."

U.S. refinery utilization rose to 96.3% last week, and refiners churned nearly 17.6 million barrels of oil into fuel. But demand ebbed from the previous week's record high.

Traders and analysts had expected stockpiles of products to fall as the summer season prompted drivers to consume more fuel while traveling.

"At the end of the day, that's a bit of a counter," said John Saucer, vice president of research and analysis at Mobius Risk Group. "And that may explain why we weren't off to the races, so to speak, when the numbers came out."

Oil prices have been stuck in a tight range this month, hovering below $50 a barrel as investors try to gauge how much the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will be able to influence global supply.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia -- OPEC's largest member and the world's biggest crude producer -- and other deal participants such as Russia, implored Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and others to better conform to the output cuts agreed upon last year.

However, the meeting ended with little impact on the market. Participants remain skeptical that members of the deal will be able to adhere to the planned reductions in output, especially as those exempt from the agreement, including Libya and Nigeria, increase production.

Meanwhile, traders are keeping a close eye on production levels in the U.S. As prices have risen, U.S. shale has responded by increasing output more quickly than many expected this year. Concerns that U.S. producers will once again lock in prices on oil gains have keep U.S. futures subdued, analysts said.

"Right now it has much more to do with the inventory numbers and much more to do with how much hedging is being done," Mr. Saucer said.

Gasoline futures fell 0.6% to $1.6109 a gallon and diesel futures rose 0.4% to $1.6355 a gallon.

--Christopher Alessi contributed to this article.

Write to Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com and Stephanie Yang at stephanie.yang@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 09, 2017 12:35 ET (16:35 GMT)