U.S. crude oil inventories fell sharply and stockpiles of gasoline and distillates jumped last week as refiners hiked production rates to the highest since November 2015 to process a record amount of crude, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories USOILC=ECI fell 3.6 million barrels in the week to April 21, compared with analyst expectations for a decrease of 1.7 million barrels.
That marks the third straight week of drawdowns in crude stocks, which will help reduce the glut of supply that has kept oil trading in a range between the high-$40s and mid-$50s per barrel.
As seasonal spring maintenance has ended, refiners ramped up production ahead of the high-demand summer driving season.
Refinery crude runs USOICR=ECI rose by 347,000 barrels per day to a record 17.3 million bpd and utilization rates USOIRU=ECI rose by 1.2 percentage points to 94.1 percent of total capacity, the highest rate since November 2015, EIA data showed.
"The report was somewhat supportive for prices, due to the overall crude oil inventory drawdown resulting from a further rise in the refinery utilization rate and large upward spike in crude oil exports," said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC in New York.
U.S. crude imports USOICI=ECI rose last week by 515,000 bpd to 7.8 million bpd as exports increased 587,000 bpd to 1.2 million bpd, the highest rate since Feb. 17.
Consumption, however was a concern as total product demand over past four weeks at 19.5 mln bpd was off 2.2 percent from a year ago.
"Demand for refined products remains weak for this time of the year, which will be a cause for concern over the coming weeks if demand fails to recover,” said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy's Global Gas Analytics in London.
Gasoline stocks USOILG=ECI rose 3.4 million barrels, compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1 million-barrel drop. U.S. inventories of gasoline have rebounded in the last two weeks of figures, putting them about on par with 2016's levels at this time, which is seasonally high.
Distillate stockpiles USOILD=ECI, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 2.7 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures USOICC=ECI fell 1.2 million barrels, EIA said.
After the data, U.S. crude futures CLc1 turned positive, but pared most gains to settle up 6 cents at $49.62 a barrel.
(Reporting By David Gaffen; additional reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy)