NEW YORK U.S. crude stockpiles fell unexpectedly last week as imports slumped, while gasoline inventories hit a record high for a second week, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.
After two consecutive weeks of record highs, crude inventories fell 754,000 barrels in the week to Feb. 5, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 3.6 million barrels. The decline was only the fourth decrease since the end of September.
U.S. crude imports fell by 1.1 million barrels per day, the biggest weekly decline since December 2014, to 7.1 million bpd.
Crude stocks at Cushing Oklahoma, delivery hub for crude futures, however, rose 523,000 barrels to record 64.7 million barrels, EIA said.
"It looks like the unexpected crude draw was due to lower imports," said Scott Shelton, broker and commodities specialist with ICAP. "This is a slight improvement in the oil inventory data, but I don't think this is enough to make people think the lows are in."
U.S. crude futures initially rose on the news, topping $29 a barrel, but quickly retreated, and was at $27.85, down 9 cents on the day by 11:03 a.m. EST. Brent crude rose above $31.70 a barrel, and then pared gains, retreating to $31.06.
The lower imports may be attributed to inclement weather that delayed vessels in the U.S. Gulf from unloading crude, said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at Data provider, ClipperData.
"The volume of crude still waiting to offload is still over 20 million barrels - double the volume we normally see - which could impact the number in the coming week. This is all a temporary influence however, and means we will see a humongous pending crude build in the weeks to come."
Refinery crude runs fell 105,000 bpd, as refinery utilization rates fell 0.5 percentage point to 86.1 percent of capacity.
Gasoline stocks rose 1.3 million barrels to a new record high of 255.7 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 417,000 barrels gain.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 1.3 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.6 million barrels drop, the EIA data showed.
"The rise in gasoline and distillate inventories will weigh on the complex further and should keep a lid on any rebound in crude oil prices from the surprise drawdown," said John Kilduff, partner at hedge fund Again Capital in New York.
(Reporting By Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Marguerita Choy)