(Reuters) – US crude stocks fell much more than expected as refineries boosted production towards the end of the year, the Energy Information Administration said on Friday.
Crude oil stocks declined 5.5 million barrels to 441.4 million barrels a week through December 20, well above the 1.7 million barrels expected by analysts in a Reuters survey.
The refinery's crude oil volumes rose 418,000 barrels last week, EIA said. Refinery utilization rose 2.7 percentage points a week. Total capacity utilization rose to 93.3% during the week, the highest since September as refinery production increased.
Oil prices were slightly higher in the data, and Brent crude recovered from previous losses and gained 16 cents to $ 68.08 at 11:18 a.m. EST (1618 GMT) in relatively light year-end trading. US crude fell 2 cents to $ 61.66 a barrel.
"After months of waiting, we finally see refineries returning from fall maintenance and increasing volumes, which has resulted in a significant drop in crude oil stocks this week," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.
"Unfortunately for the refineries, they are converting this excess crude oil into additional gasoline reserves, which is not a good sign for the refining of profit margins in early 2020."
US gasoline reserves rose 2 million barrels a week to 239.3 million barrels a week. This is the highest level of gasoline stocks since March. Analysts estimated that 1.7 million barrels of gasoline would be built.
According to the EIA, crude oil reserves at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery center fell 2.4 million barrels last week.
Distillates, including diesel and heating oil, declined 152,000 barrels a week to 124.9 million barrels a week from expectations for an increase of 800,000 barrels, according to EIA data.
(Reporting by David Gaffen and Stephanie Kelly; editing by David Gregorio)