U.S. crude stocks build unexpectedly, fuel draws down amid export surge

(Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose unexpectedly last week, while distillate and gasoline inventories dropped again as refiners continue to boost fuel exports to a world in need of supply, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude inventories rose by 1.3 MM barrels in the week to April 29 to 415.7 MM barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for an 829,000-barrel drop.

Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 2.3 MM barrels to 104.9 MM barrels, their lowest since April 2008. Gasoline stocks dropped by 2.2 MM barrels to 228.6 MM barrels.

Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, and subsequent moves by the United States and allies to curtail imports of Russian oil, has tightened supply worldwide.

That has boosted interest in U.S. refined product exports.

Over the last four weeks, the United States has exported an average of 6.3 MMbpd, up 22% from the year-ago period, while its imports of fuels have dropped by 14% in that same time period. That has tightened refined product stocks in the United States and increased prices as well.

By contrast, in the United States, implied demand has softened a bit. Product supplied by refiners, a proxy for demand, is down 2.6% over the last four weeks when compared with the same time last year.

The United States also continued to release stocks from its strategic reserves, putting roughly 3.1 MM barrels into the market in an effort to keep prices from spiraling higher, leaving levels at their lowest since December 2001 at just under 550 MM barrels.

As a result, crude stocks at the key Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub rose by 1.4 MM barrels in the week, even as production held steady at 11.9 MMbpd, the EIA said.

"We saw another decline in gasoline and diesel and while commercial stocks of crude oil inventories built, they were more than offset by continued drawdown of Strategic Petroleum Reserve inventories," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associated in Houston.

Refinery crude runs fell by 218,000 bpd last week, the EIA said. Refinery utilization rates fell by 1.9 percentage points in the week to 88.4%, with notable drops in the Midwest and on the Gulf Coast, which account for the majority of country's refining capacity.

Oil prices were marginally lower after the news. ​U.S. crude rose $3.84 a barrel to $106.25 a barrel, while Brent increased $3.84 to $108.82 a barrel.

(Reporting By David Gaffen Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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