US crude oil stockpiles increased by less-than-expected last week, held back by another decline in the country's net imports but buoyed by fewer inputs to refineries.
According to the Department of Energy, commercial crude oil inventories increased by 0.9m barrels over the week ending on 25 January to reach 445.9m barrels (consensus: 3.2m).
Refineries meanwhile operated at 90.1% of capacity.
In parallel, gasoline stockpiles shrank by 2.2m barrels and those for distillates by 1.1m barrels.
But while domestic crude oil output in the States was essentially unchanged at 11.9m barrels a day, net imports fell by 1.02m b/d to 5.139m b/d.
Exports were little changed, dipping by just 91,000 b/d to 1.944m b/d.
Nevertheless, oil inventories were still standing roughly 7% above their five-year average, those for gasoline about 5% above and those of distillates approximately 2% below.
The drop in refinery inputs was to be expected at this time of year, so it does “not paint a clear picture of demand,” said Capital Economics's Yasemin Engin.
Nevertheless, “the declines in gasoline and distillate stocks, the former falling for the first time in nine weeks, suggest that demand for products is healthy.
“The swift reaction to the DoE's figures suggests that the oil market is focused on trends in demand. Indeed, the market reaction to the ongoing developments in Venezuela has been fairly muted.”