UPDATE 1-U.S. crude, fuel stocks fall; imports down-EIA
NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. crude and refined product inventories fell last week on lower imports, government data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.
Crude inventories dropped by 1.31 million barrels in the week to March 15, compared with analysts' expectations for a rise of 2 million barrels. The fall came as crude imports decreased by 219,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 7.27 million bpd.
The draw in crude stocks was the first in nine weeks, according to EIA data.
The drawdown in crude inventories was due to the West Coast, which had a drop of nearly 2.8 million bpd last week. That decline was partially offset by an increase of almost 2.4 million barrels along the Gulf Coast.
"The big draw on the West Coast offset the bullishness of the overall (crude draw) number. West Coast numbers aren't as important," said Kyle Cooper, director of research at IAF advisors in Houston.
The West Coast market is relatively isolated from regions where supply and demand are more integrated due to pipeline and other logistical links, such as the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.
U.S. refinery utilization rose 2.5 percentage points to 83.5 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed, compared with expectations for a 0.2 percentage point rise.
U.S. imports of refined products fell last week by 639,000 bpd to 1.56 million bpd.
U.S. gasoline stocks fell 1.48 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll of a 2.1 million barrel decline.
Four-week average gasoline demand rose 1.5 percent from year-ago levels, the EIA reported.
Distillate fuels, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 672,000 barrels, compared with expectations for a drop of 800,000 barrels, the EIA data showed.
Some analysts found the drop in U.S. crude imports surprising.
"(Crude) Imports ... that's a number we haven't seen in years and years. The four-week average of imports at 7.5 million barrels (per day), that's incredibly, incredibly low," Cooper said.
U.S. oil production has recently been rising as a result of the boom in drilling of shale prospects. Still, crude imports from top exporting nation Saudi Arabia rose 294,000 barrels per day (bpd) to top 1.5 million bpd last week, the highest since August, EIA data showed.
U.S. oil futures initially extended gains after the data, but later fell back. By noon EDT (1600 GMT) they were up 29 cents at $92.45 a barrel. Before the data, oil had been up around 36 cents per barrel.
Crude stocks at delivery hub Cushing, Oklahoma, fell 286,000 barrels to 49.03 million barrels.