* U.S. crude stocks up 7.8 million barrels
* Gasoline inventories down 4.5 million barrels
* Distillate stocks off 1.4 million barrels
* Refinery utilization rate up at 84.4 pct
NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil inventories rose sharply last week as the country imported more oil, while stocks of refined products fell even as refiners boosted output, weekly data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed on Tuesday.
U.S. crude oil stocks rose 7.8 million barrels in the week to March 30, compared with analysts’ expectations for a 2.2-million-barrel build, the API data showed.
The build came a week after the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 7.1-million-barrel rise in U.S. crude stocks for the week to March 23. The API had reported a 3.6-million-barrel increase for that week.
U.S. crude imports rose last week by 446,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 9.93 million bpd.
“The numbers appear bearish given the overall build, especially for crude oil. The report may cause WTI crude oil to add a bit of downside,” said Mark W. Kellstrom with Strategic Energy Research and Capital in New Jersey.
“In addition, the now month-long substantial builds in Cushing still support the bullish impact on the WTI-Brent spread,” he said.
Crude stocks at the key Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub rose by 739,000 barrels, the data showed. Stocks in the Gulf Coast (PADD III) region had a 5.7-million-barrel build, according to the data.
U.S. gasoline inventories fell by 4.5 million barrels last week, much more than the 1.4-million-barrel draw analysts had anticipated.
The largest gasoline drawdown came in the Gulf Coast region, where stocks fell by 2.2 million barrels. Northeast gasoline stocks declined by 1.3 million barrels last week, the API said.
Distillate stocks fell by 1.4 million barrels, compared with expectations for a 400,000-barrel draw.
U.S. refinery utilization rates rose by 0.2 percentage point to 84.4 percent of capacity. Analysts had forecast a 0.4-percentage-point rise in utilization.
U.S. crude oil and Brent futures slightly extended losses following the data. U.S. crude was down $1.12 at $104.11 a barrel, having been $1.02 lower ahead of the report.