(Adds price reaction, analyst comment)
By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell less than expected last week according to a largely bearish report on Wednesday from the Energy Information Administration, which also showed that gasoline and distillate inventories rose more than expected.
Crude inventories fell by 1.7 million barrels in the week to Jan. 4, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a decrease of 2.8 million barrels.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 10.6 million barrels, more than five times the expected 1.9 million-barrel increase, the EIA data showed.
Gasoline stocks rose 8.1 million barrels, the largest weekly rise since December of 2016. Analysts had forecast a 3.4 million-barrel gain.
U.S. Gulf Coast gasoline inventories rose to 89.4 million barrels, hitting fresh record highs, EIA data showed.
“The report is bearish given the smaller-than-expected decline in crude oil inventories and the very large increase in refined product inventories,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York.
“Refiners continue to operate at a high level, but they appear to be playing to increasingly empty theatre, in that, demand and export levels continue to be lackluster, especially for gasoline.”
Distillates may have seen lower demand due to warmer than normal temperatures.
“The milder temperatures have hurt distillate demand a little bit,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures rose 330,000 barrels, EIA said.
Crude benchmarks and refined products futures pared gains after the EIA report. U.S. crude traded at $50.97 a barrel, up $1.19, by 10:52 a.m. EST [1552 GMT] after earlier trading at a session high of $51.50.
Refinery crude runs fell by 194,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 1.1 percentage point to 96.1 percent of total capacity.
Net U.S. crude imports rose last week by 626,000 bpd while crude production was steady at 11.7 million bpd. (Energy Desk Editing by Marguerita Choy)