(Adds analyst comment, futures prices)
NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks fell last week as refineries continued to operate at near record-high rates, while gasoline stocks decreased and distillate inventories rose, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell 1.7 million barrels to 453.6 million barrels in the week to Aug. 7, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.8 million barrels.
U.S. crude imports rose last week by 393,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 7 million bpd.
Refinery crude runs dipped 46,000 bpd to 17.03 million bpd after reaching the highest run rates on record in previous weeks, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates were unchanged at a strong 96.1 percent of capacity.
“The crude draw came in as expected as the continued high pace of refinery utilization was offset by a rebound in imports,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at Clipper Data in New York.
Crude futures initially pared gains after the report.
U.S. crude futures were up 40 cents at $43.48 a barrel at 11:07 a.m. EDT (1507 GMT), having swung from $42.80 to $43.87.
Brent crude was up 49 cents at $49.67, having traded from $48.72 to $49.91.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell 51,000 barrels to 57.1 million barrels, the EIA said. Tanks in Cushing can store as much as 71.4 million barrels, according to EIA estimates.
Oil traders are bracing for a rapid build-up in inventories in the coming weeks, likely testing Cushing’s storage capacity limits, as refiners shut for spring maintenance; the rise may be swifter than expected due to the unexpected prolonged closure of BP’s main crude unit at its Whiting, Indiana, refinery this week.
A report on Wednesday that BP’s 240,000 bpd unit might be down as much as two months may have helped curb any bullish sentiment generated by the EIA data, brokers said.
Gasoline stocks fell 1.3 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 647,000-barrel drop.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 3.0 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.3 million-barrel increase, EIA data showed.
“Inventories were basically in line with expectations on the crude front,” said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors in Laurel Hollow, New York. (Reporting by Jonathan Leff, Barani Krishnan and Robert Gibbons in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)