Oil dives 2.2%, settling at $61.64, after US crude and gasoline stockpiles rise

Key Points
  • Weak Asian industrial data, rising U.S. crude stockpiles and soaring American oil production are weighing on the oil market.
  • U.S. stockpiles of crude oil and gasoline rose last week, according to a government report.
  • Chinese factory growth slowed to the lowest level since July 2016, while Japan's industrial output took the biggest dive since 2011.
Oil jack pumps in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, California.
Jonathan Alcorn | Reuters

Oil prices fell more than 2 percent on Wednesday and gasoline futures tumbled, after the U.S. government said crude inventories rose more than expected while gasoline stocks posted a big build instead of the draw that was forecast.

U.S. crude inventories rose by 3 million barrels for the week ending Feb. 23, compared with analyst expectations for a build of 2.1 million barrels.

Gasoline inventories rose by 2.5 million barrels, compared to analyst expectations for a 190,000-barrel drawdown. Gasoline futures fell sharply, leading the rest of the energy complex lower.

"The report was bearish, primarily due to the fairly large crude oil and gasoline inventory builds," said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC in New York.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell to a two-week closing low, ending Wednesday's session down $1.37, or 2.2 percent, at $61.64 a barrel. WTI finished February down nearly 5 percent, snapping a five-month winning streak.

Oil in March after dollar rises 1%

May Brent crude futures fell $1.76, or 2.7 percent, to $64.76 a barrel by 2:29 p.m. ET, while the April contract, which expires on Wednesday, was down 83 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $65.80 a barrel.

Gasoline futures lost 4 percent to $1.7313 a gallon. The rise in inventories came even as refineries boosted activity in the most recent week.

"In spite of refiners undergoing maintenance, they continue to process more crude compared to previous years adding to gasoline and diesel supply," said Andrew Lipow, president at Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Soaring U.S. production kept a lid on oil prices this year, even though the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia have reduced output.

A Reuters survey on Wednesday showed OPEC maintained its supply cuts in February, dropping output to 32.28 million bpd, lowest since April of last year.

"Climbing U.S. production continues to weigh on the market as traders fear that the OPEC output cuts will be nullified by the rising U.S. output," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia's Rivkin Securities.

U.S. crude production has risen by a fifth since mid-2016 to more than 10 million barrels per day. Wednesday's release showed weekly production rose again to 10.3 million bpd. More reliable monthly figures are due later in the day, and analysts expect that report to show another large upward revision.

Commodities tomorrow: Stronger dollar, higher production expectations hit crude

Prices were pressured earlier after three of the world's top consumers of crude — China, India and Japan — reported a slowdown in monthly factory activity.

China, the world's largest importer of oil, reported on Wednesday that growth in factory activity in February was at its lowest since July 2016.

In Japan, the world's third-largest economy, industrial output in January took its biggest tumble since a devastating earthquake in March 2011, highlighting a weakening in demand and a build up of inventory.

Growth in India's factory activity slowed as well to a four-month low in February as new orders eased and weighed on output, after manufacturers raised prices at the fastest pace in a year, a business survey showed on Wednesday.

The U.S. dollar hit a one-month high Wednesday, putting additional pressure on crude. A stronger dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.