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ANALYSIS: US crude stocks, refinery runs expected lower amid Texas deep freeze

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ANALYSIS: US crude stocks, refinery runs expected lower amid Texas deep freeze

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Crude stocks likely fall 4.8 million barrels

Refinery utilization expected 3.8 points lower

US driving activity hits 9-month low

New York — US crude oil inventory draws likely extended during the week ended Feb. 19 as severe weather across the southern states shut in production, according to analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts.

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Total commercial crude stocks are expected to have declined 4.8 million barrels to around 457 million barrels last week, analysts said Feb. 22, leaving them 1% behind the five-year average of US Energy Information Administration data. The drawdown would mark a fifth week of falling inventories and would open the first deficit to the five-year average since the week ended March 27.

The decline was likely predicated in large part on a sharp downturn in US crude production after a winter storm brought Arctic temperatures to Texas, disrupting power grids and freezing equipment. At peak on Feb. 17, around 3.8 million b/d of crude output was shut in by the storm, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data, with output still down around 2.2 million b/d on Feb. 19.

US crude production averaged at 10.8 million b/d during the week ended Feb. 12, EIA data showed, the lowest since the week ended Nov. 6.

The storm also likely impacted export activity across much of the Gulf Coast, potentially blunting the downside impact on crude stocks. Total outbound crude volumes averaged 2.3 million b/d in the week ended Feb. 19, data from cFlow, Platts trade-flow software, shows, down 1.6 million b/d from an EIA-reported 3.9 million b/d during the week prior and the lowest since the week ended Dec. 4.

Crude loadings were down across most major Texas oil ports, falling as much as 70% in Houston to 1.5 million barrels, cFlow data shows, the lowest in at least five weeks.

While the storm added additional downward pressure, US exports were already facing headwinds from shifting arbitrage economics.

Notably, loadings at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, were at zero for a second week running, marking a stark reversal from January when the terminal saw all-time high export volumes of 467,000 b/d.

LOOP, the only terminal in the US that can fully load a VLCC, mostly sends cargoes to Asia, but the economics for these shipments have become increasingly tight in recent weeks.

To date in February, the arbitrage incentive for shipping WTI MEH to Singapore versus Malaysian Tapis crude has averaged minus 29 cent/b, down from 36 cents/b in January.

The incentive for WTI MEH versus ESPO in Northeast Asia has averaged minus $1.28/b this month, compared with 40 cents/b in January.

Power outages, freeze shut refineries

Power outages and extreme low temperatures impacted all of Texas' 5.9 million b/d of refinery capacity last week, according to filings made with state environmental regulators, with as much as 4.4 million b/d of capacity fully offline Feb. 18.

The disruptions were likely to drag the nationwide refinery utilization rate down 3.8 percentage points to 79.3% of total capacity. If confirmed by EIA, it would mark the largest one-week drop in refinery utilization since the week ended Sept. 4.

As of Feb. 22, several large refineries in the region were beginning to restart, suggesting the downturn is likely to be short-lived.

Refined product stocks likely came under pressure last week amid the decline in refinery runs. Total gasoline inventories are expected to have declined 2.8 million barrels to around 254.3 million barrels, analysts said, while distillate stocks likely drew 3.5 million barrels lower to 154.2 million barrels.

The gasoline draw would snap four consecutive weekly builds and put inventories back below the five-year average for the first time since late January. Distillate stocks would fall to around 4% above the five-year average, in from 5% the week prior and the narrowest overhang since the week ended April 10.

Blunting the supply driven gasoline draws, US driving activity was down nearly 7 percentage points last week, Apple Mobility data shows, putting it at the lowest since the week ended May 15 and nearly 16% behind year-ago levels.