U.S. crude oil stockpiles climbed unexpectedly last week as net imports jumped, while gasoline stocks also posted a surprise build, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories rose 5.8 million barrels in the week to May 18, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 1.6 million barrels, the EIA said.
Inventories rose in part due to a sharp 1.4 million-barrels-per-day hike in net crude imports. Exports fell 818,000 bpd last week to 1.7 million bpd, after reaching a weekly record of 2.6 million bpd in the previous week.
"The large rise in crude oil inventories made for a bearish report, and it came as a result of decent sized drop in exports, along with a large increase in imports," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
Oil prices were down on the news, pulling back from the broader rally on concerns about tightening supply around the world. The collapse of Venezuela's economy and increased U.S. sanctions is likely to hamper already depressed output from the OPEC member. Renewed U.S. sanctions following the cancellation of the Iran nuclear arms deal may also remove supply from the market.
Both of those factors, along with strong demand, have pushed oil to near-four-year highs. Brent crude recently touched $80 a barrel, though it was lower on Wednesday. As of 10:46 a.m. EDT (1446 GMT), Brent was down $1.17 a barrel at $78.40; U.S. crude lost 85 cents to $71.35 a barrel.
Refinery crude runs fell by 7,000 bpd, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates rose by 0.7 percentage point to 91.8 percent of total capacity.
Gasoline stocks rose by 1.9 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.4 million-barrel drop.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.3 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 1.1 million barrels, EIA said.
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