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Analysis: US crude supply expands amid import surge, refinery slowdown

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Commercial crude stocks up 1.58 million barrels at 440.51 million barrels

Imports strongest since late May at 7.71 million b/d

Gasoline demand at record 9.93 million b/d

New York — US crude oil inventories showed a counter-seasonal build last week as a refinery slowdown was met with a surge in import volumes, US Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday.

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US commercial crude supply expanded 1.58 million barrels to 440.51 million barrels during the week ended August 9, EIA data showed. The build was the second in as many weeks and widened the nationwide surplus to the five-year average to 3.5%. In late July this supply overhang had been as narrow at 1.7%.

The recent builds have run counter to seasonal trends as crude inventories typically decline this time of year heading into fall refinery maintenance season, which is expected to peak in October.

USGC refiners are expected to take down 1.36 million b/d of distillation capacity in October, up from 200,000 b/d in August, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

A 2.20 million-barrel increase in US West Coast crude inventories to 51.13 million barrels lead the nationwide build, but US Gulf Coast tanks were also up 1.76 million barrels last week at 224.46 million barrels.

The crude build was pared by a 3.34 million-barrel draw in Midwest inventories, down to 132.64 million barrels. This dip included a 2.54 million barrels decline in stocks at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point of the NYMEX crude contract, to a 13-week low 44.82 million barrels.

Higher crude imports accounted for part of the buildout in stocks last week. Total imports surged 570,000 b/d surge to 7.71 million b/d, the strongest since late-May. Imports were especially strong into the USWC, where inbound volumes averaged at 1.6 million b/d, up 390,000 b/d on the week and the highest since August 2018. Imports into the USGC were also up 240,000 b/d from week prior at 2 million b/d.

This flood of imports offset a rebound in export volumes, which were 820,000 b/d stronger at 2.68 million b/d last week. Exports had fallen to a 10-month low 1.87 million b/d during the week prior.

A broad slowdown in refinery run rates further contributed to the crude supply build out. Total refinery utilization slipped 1.6 percentage points lower last week to 94.8% of capacity, and net crude inputs were down 475,000 b/d on the week at 17.30 million b/d.

Utilization rates were lower in all regions last week, with runs on the US Atlantic Coast coming in especially weak at 70.8% of capacity, down 3.2 percentage points from week prior.

But despite the nationwide slowdown, run rates in other parts of the country were still very strong. In the Midwest, refiners were still running at 99.2% of capacity despite rates edging down 1.6 points from the week prior and regional net crude inputs were nearly 8% above the five-year average at 4.09 million b/d. USGC net crude inputs too were still around 0.6% above average at 9.11 million b/d despite utilization rates pulling back 0.7 points to 96% of capacity.

PRODUCTS DRAW AMID STRONG DEMAND

Weekly product supplied, a proxy for end-user demand, surged 600,000 b/d to 22.08 million b/d, the strongest since December.

US gasoline stocks fell 1.41 million barrels last week to 233.76 million barrels as total product supplied for gasoline jumped to a fresh all-time high 9.93 million b/d, up 280,000 b/d from week prior.

The gasoline draw was almost entirely concentrated in the USWC, where inventories fell 1.56 million barrels to 30.17 million barrels. In contrast, USAC inventories were up 540,000 barrels at 61.59 million barrels, an eight-week high, and stocks in the Midwest were at 50.15 million barrels, largely flat from 50.11 million barrels the week prior.

Distillate stocks were down 1.94 million b/d on the week at 135.51 million barrels. A 370,000 barrel build in combined Midwest low and ultra-low sulfur diesel stocks widened the surplus to the five-year average to 5.4%, snapping a three week narrowing trend that saw the overhang erode from 10.5% in early July to 3.5% in early August.

-- Chris van Moessner, christopher.vanmoessner@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com