May 21, 2020 / 12:18 PM / 8 days ago

Column: U.S. petroleum stocks stabilize as industry adapts to shock - Kemp

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. petroleum inventories show signs of stabilizing as domestic crude production and imports slow while refinery processing gradually increases from last month’s crisis lows.

FILE PHOTO: The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. Picture taken November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant/File Photo

Excess inventories are clearing from the crude side first in response to output cuts, while a reduction in refined fuel stocks will take longer as consumption is slower to return.

Total inventories of crude and products, excluding the strategic petroleum reserve, rose by another 5 million barrels last week, taking the cumulative increase to 142 million barrels since March 20.

Total inventories have climbed to a record 1.40 billion barrels, but the rate of increase has decelerated progressively since the second week of April (tmsnrt.rs/3bPFr2h).

Crude inventories actually fell by 5 million barrels last week, the second weekly decline in a row, a marked turnaround from the previous rise of 78 million barrels since March 20.

Crude in storage around the NYMEX WTI delivery point at Cushing fell almost 6 million barrels, also the second weekly decline, easing concerns about tank space running out.

Cushing tank farms are now 72% full, down from 83% at the start of the month, with capacity to store up to an extra 21 million barrels if necessary.

Domestic crude production has fallen to around 11.5 million barrels per day (bpd), from 13.1 million bpd before the country went into lockdown, according to estimates by the Energy Information Administration.

Crude imports have also decelerated to just 5.2 million bpd last week, the second slowest rate since 1992, accelerating the market rebalancing.

FUEL DEMAND

Despite progress cutting crude inventories, stocks of refined products continued to climb last week, as refinery restarts outpaced the resumption of fuel consumption for the time being.

Gasoline stocks climbed almost 3 million barrels last week while distillates were up by almost 4 million (“Weekly petroleum status report”, EIA, May 20).

Gasoline inventories show signs of peaking in recent weeks, but distillates are still rising and are now up by around 34 million barrels since the lockdown started.

Refineries processed 12.9 million bpd of crude last week, down from 15.8 million bpd on the eve of the crisis, still more than the market can absorb for the time being.

As a result, refineries’ processing rates will have to remain restrained for several more weeks to allow excess fuel stocks to be digested.

The U.S. petroleum supply system has successfully adapted to the largest and most abrupt shock in its 160-year history.

It will take months for petroleum inventories to return to normal levels but the adjustment is now clearly underway.

Related columns:

- Physical oil market tightens as output cuts, economic recovery take hold (Reuters, May 20)

- Successful OPEC+ output deal fits a pattern (Reuters, May 19)

- Recovering oil demand could drive market into deficit by July (Reuters, May 15)

- Oil traders see market starting road to recovery (Reuters, May 12)

Editing by Susan Fenton

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