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Surprise US crude draw sparks turnaround in oil futures

New York — Oil futures rose Thursday after US Energy Information Administration datashowed an unexpected draw in crude stocks last week, lifting NYMEX April crude$1.09 to $62.77/b.

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Crude stocks fell 1.616 million barrels to 420.479 million barrels in theweek that ended February 16, snapping a streak of three straight builds.

Inventories typically build at this time of year as refinery demand slowsbecause of winter maintenance. US refinery utilization fell 1.7 percentagepoints last week to 88.1% of capacity.

Analysts S&P Global Platts surveyed Tuesday expected a build of 2.5million barrels. The five-year average for the same period shows an increaseof 3.5 million barrels.

The market responded immediately to the EIA inventory data, turningpositive and staying in the black for the rest of the session.

"The WTI price rose by nearly $1/b during the hour after the numbers werereleased, reversing some of the decline that took place over the past coupleweeks," said Jenna Delaney, senior oil analyst at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

ICE April Brent settled Thursday at $66.39/b, up 97 cents.

Last week's decline in crude stocks was driven by trade flows, as importsplunged 867,000 b/d to 7.021 million b/d, while exports jumped 722,000 b/d to2.044 million b/d.

Exports were driven higher by a surplus created by a combination of lowerrefinery demand and record-high US production, Citi Research analysts saidThursday.

US output averaged 10.27 million b/d, essentially unchanged from the weekprior, which represented an all-time high, according to EIA weekly estimatesthat go back to 1983.

"However, we note that a deep global refinery maintenance season couldmean some headwinds to US crude exports in the near term," Citi said.

Stocks at the NYMEX crude delivery point in Cushing, Oklahoma, fell 2.664million barrels last week to 30.003 million barrels.

Inventories there are at their lowest point since December 2014. Cushingstocks have fallen for nine straight weeks and in 14 of the last 15 weeks.

"The overall impression from this set of stats was bullish as totalpetroleum stocks drew 7.9 million barrels and Cushing stocks are now below thefive-year range," said Torbjorn Kjus, oil market analyst at DNB Bank.

NYMEX March RBOB rose 84 cents to $1.7657/gal after EIA data showedgasoline stocks on the Atlantic Coast fell 748,000 barrels to 65.293 millionbarrels, a deficit of 3.9% to the five-year average.

Total gasoline stocks rose 261,000 barrels last week to 249.334 millionbarrels, a surplus of 2.4% to the five-year average.

Analysts expected a draw of 800,000 barrels. For the same period, stocksfell by 2.1 million barrels on average from 2013 through 2017.

Total distillate stocks fell 2.422 million barrels to 138.945 millionbarrels, a surplus of 1.1% to the five-year average.

Analysts were looking for a draw of 1.6 million barrels. The five-yearaverage for the same reporting period is a pull of 2.3 million barrels.

NYMEX March ULSD settled 2.04 cents higher at $1.9527/gal.

--Geoffrey Craig,

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,