(Reuters) - U.S. crude oil inventories fell last week as refining rates rose, while gasoline posted an unexpected hefty build, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday.
Crude inventories dropped 2.7 million barrels in the week to Oct. 6, slightly more than analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a decrease of 2 million barrels.
Inventories have been declining in recent weeks, after an interruption due to Hurricane Harvey that knocked out nearly half of the Gulf Coast’s refining capacity at the end of August.
Refinery crude runs rose by 229,000 barrels per day as utilization rates rose by 1.1 percentage points to 89.2 percent of total capacity, the EIA data showed.
“The report is supportive given the larger than expected decline in crude oil inventories and the continued steady decline in distillate fuels,” said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC in New York.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 1.5 million barrels, versus expectations for a 2.2 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Gasoline stocks rose 2.5 million barrels, versus forecasts for 480,000-barrel drop, spurring U.S. gasoline futures to extend losses and gasoline margins to turn negative after the data.
Crude futures initially pared losses as the government data showed crude stocks fell a bit more than forecast and as the American Petroleum Institute late Wednesday had reported a 3.1 million-barrel stock build.
By 11:30 a.m. (1530 GMT), U.S. crude oil was down 82 cents to $50.48 a barrel, bouncing off a low of $50.21 reached earlier in the session. Brent crude dropped 90 cents to $56.04 a barrel.
Crude exports fell to 1.27 million bpd from a record 1.98 million bpd a week earlier.
The United States, however, has exported more than 1 million bpd of crude for three straight weeks for the first time and analysts, however, expect exports to remain elevated in coming weeks. Some traders have expressed concerns that the U.S. will at some point reach its export capacity, though that has not been hit yet.
Crude production slipped 81,000 bpd to 9.48 million bpd, its first fall since the week to Sept. 1.. These figures are frequently revised, and analysts tend to rely on the monthly data as a better barometer of U.S. crude production.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 1.3 million barrels, EIA said.
Reporting By David Gaffen; Editing by Marguerita Choy