(Reuters) – U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose unexpectedly last week, while refineries hiked output to their capacity usage since March, the Energy Information Administration said on Friday.
Crude inventories rose by 4.4 million barrels in the week to Jan. 15, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.2 million barrels.
Refinery utilization rates rose by 0.5 percentage points to 82.5% of total capacity, their highest since March, EIA data showed, a potential signal of optimism that demand will rebound in coming months. Refinery crude runs rose by 110,000 barrels per day.
“The refinery runs came in better, so basically the market is getting a little support on the fact that we are seeing continued improvement in demand,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for futures fell by 4.7 million barrels to 52.5 million barrels, their lowest since August, the EIA said.
Oil prices pared their losses after the data. U.S. crude was off by 60 cents, or 1.1%, to $52.53 a barrel as of 11:18 a.m. EST (1618 GMT), while Brent fell 60 cents to $55.49 a barrel.
Gasoline stocks fell by 260,000 barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.8 million-barrel gain.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 458,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 1.2 million-barrel increase, the EIA data showed.
Net U.S. crude imports rose last week by 566,000 bpd.