U.S. commercial crude oil stockpiles fell last week for the first time since January, according to data released Wednesday morning by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The 700,000-barrel drop surprised analysts, who had been expecting a 4.1 million-barrel increase, according to a Reuters poll.
However, the news didn't have much of an impact on benchmark WTI Crude prices, which spiked briefly on the news to above $26 a barrel, but retreated throughout the rest of the morning as concerns about potential spikes in coronavirus infections worried investors.
Stocks of independent U.S. oil exploration and production companies (E&Ps) like ConocoPhillips (COP -8.60%), EOG Resources (EOG -7.80%), and Marathon Oil (MRO -10.94%) didn't see a benefit, either: All opened lower and sank further throughout the morning.
Demand is up
Total gasoline inventories fell last week, too, by 3.5 million barrels. When combined with a 6.2% increase in four-week average gasoline production over the prior week's figure, demand for motor gasoline seems to be on the rise.
Despite this apparent uptick in gasoline demand, oil oversupply remains a concern. Crude oil storage near the WTI hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, is still at more than 80% of capacity. Despite a 321,000-barrel decrease from the prior week, crude oil imports are still gushing into the country at a rate of 5.4 million barrels/day.
It's also worth noting that the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve slurped up 1.9 million barrels of crude supply during the week, meaning overall U.S. crude stockpiles (including the SPR) increased by 1.2 million barrels overall.
Oil industry investors may also be concerned that last week's figures represent a one-time blip rather than the beginning of a sustained decrease in oil stockpiles.