(Adds export figures, updates prices)
By Devika Krishna Kumar
NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose last week for a seventh straight week but less than forecast, while gasoline inventories fell far more than expected as refineries cut output, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday.
Crude inventories rose 564,000 barrels in the week to Feb. 17, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 3.5 million barrels, the EIA said.
Crude imports, however, slumped 1.4 million barrels per day, while exports rose 185,000 bpd to a record high of 1.2 million bpd, driven in part by surging exports to Asia in the wake of a deal by global oil producers to cut output.
“The big jump in exports is notable and production above 9 million barrels. With those two together, the U.S. is becoming an export juggernaut,” said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.
Oil prices initially rose on the data that bullishly showed hefty product drawdowns and a sharp 1.5 million-barrel drop in crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures.
But the market quickly pared gains and by 1:54 p.m. EST (1854 GMT), U.S. crude futures were 1.5 percent higher on the day at $54.39 a barrel.
“It’s surprising that the market didn’t move very much today even with the draw from Cushing. We saw some bigger draws in heating oil and even gasoline, but we’re well supplied there,” Tariq Zahir at Tyche Capital Advisors.
Crude oil and gasoline inventories had soared to record highs a week earlier as refineries cut output amid seasonal maintenance and gasoline demand softened.
Refinery crude runs continued to decline, slipping by 187,000 bpd last week as utilization rates fell 1.1 percentage points to 84.3 percent of total refining capacity, EIA data showed.
U.S. East Coast refinery utilization rates dropped to 72.4 percent, the lowest seasonal level since 2015, the EIA said.
Gasoline stocks fell 2.6 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 888,000-barrel drop.
Gasoline is seeing “remarkable weakness” and some of that was due to the weather conditions in the West Coast, one of the biggest consumers of gasoline in the world, Again Capital’s Kilduff said.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 4.9 million barrels, versus forecasts for a 483,000-barrels draw, the EIA data showed. That was the largest weekly drop since October, 2014. (Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York, additional reporting by Catherine Ngai; editing by Marguerita Choy)