Oil falls as US reports surprise fuel build, weak demand


By Shariq Khan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices fell for the second consecutive session on Thursday, after the U.S. government reported weak fuel demand in the country and a surprise jump in gasoline and distillate fuel stockpiles.

futures fell by $1.74, or 2.1% to settle at $81.86 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell by $1.32, or 1.7%, to $77.91 a barrel.

stocks fell more than expected last week as refiners ramped up to their highest utilization rates in over nine months, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed. However, there was a surprise jump in gasoline and distillate fuel inventories as demand weakened even as output rose. [EIA/S]

“Weakness in gasoline markets have continued to drag down the rest of the oil complex,” Alex Hodes, oil analyst at brokerage StoneX, wrote on Thursday.

Analysts had expected the U.S. Memorial Day holiday on May 27, the start of the U.S. summer driving season, would boost fuel demand. Yet EIA’s measure of gasoline demand slipped about 2% from the prior week to 9.15 million barrels per day.

“I was looking for a draw in gasoline, in particular, ahead of the holiday weekend but when refiners are cranking it out, that is too much to drain product inventories,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital.

“The gasoline demand is still a good number, even though I would have expected that to be up closer to 9.5 (million bpd) going into the last holiday weekend,” he said.

U.S. gasoline futures fell more than 2% to a 3-month low of $2.40 a gallon, while ultra-low sulfur diesel futures settled at an over 11 month low.

Further pressuring oil prices, investors’ risk-appetite has been subdued by the prospect of delayed monetary easing in the U.S. and Europe, analysts at financial brokerage ActivTrades said. “Fear trading” is dominating financial markets ahead of Friday’s U.S. consumer price index data, they wrote to clients.

© Reuters. The Bryan Mound Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an oil storage facility, is seen in this aerial photograph over Freeport, Texas, U.S., April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

Oil investors are also cautious ahead of an OPEC+ meeting this weekend. The producer group will decide whether to extend, deepen or unwind supply cuts.

Soft fuel demand and rising global oil inventories may help convince OPEC+ producers, which include the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, to maintain supply cuts when they meet on June 2, OPEC+ delegates and analysts say.