Oil ended down just above $87 on Wednesday, as crude-oil inventories rose last week for the fourth straight period, according to government data published today.
For the week ended Feb. 1, crude-oil inventories rose by 7 million barrels, or 2.4 percent, to 300 million barrels, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report. While the stockpiles were 7.3 percent below year-ago levels, analysts had expected a gain of only 2.6 million barrels, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires.
U.S. light, sweet crude for March delivery fell $1.27 per barrel, or 1.4%, to end Nymex trade at $87.14.
Gasoline inventories rose by 3.6 million barrels, or 1.6 percent, to 227.5 million barrels, which are 0.2 percent below year-ago levels. Analysts expected stockpiles of the motor fuel to rise by 1.8 million barrels last week.
Demand for gasoline over the four weeks ended Feb. 1 was 1 percent higher than a year earlier, averaging about 9 million barrels a day.
At the same time, U.S. refineries ran at 84.3 percent of total capacity on average, a drop of 0.7 percentage point. Analysts expected refinery capacity to fall by only 0.1 percentage point.
Inventories of distillate fuel, which includes diesel and heating oil, rose by 100,000 barrels to 127.1 million barrels for the week ended Feb. 1. Analysts expected distillate stocks to drop by 1.8 million barrels.
At the pump, gas prices dipped slightly overnight and stayed at a national average of about $2.98 a gallon Wednesday, but remain well above the year-ago average of $2.18 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. The Energy Information Administration last month said gas prices are expected to average more than $3 a gallon through 2009 and peak near $3.50 this spring.