Analysis of US EIA data: Gulf Coast leads U.S. product stock draw on Jones Act waiver

New York - November 21, 2012

U.S. refined product stocks fell sharply in the reporting week that ended November 16, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed Wednesday.

U.S. gasoline stocks fell 1.547 million barrels to 200.39 million barrels, led by a 2.085 million barrel decline in Gulf Coast stocks to 73.932 million barrels.

Analysts surveyed Monday by Platts expected gasoline stocks to increase by 1.25 million barrels.

Some of the Gulf Coast gasoline stock draw could be attributed to shipments of fuel from the region to the U.S. Atlantic Coast (USAC) under a temporary waiver of the Jones Act.

The Obama administration granted a blanket waiver of the act on November 2 to alleviate fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Sandy. The decision allowed foreign-flagged ships to deliver fuel to the Northeast as long as they loaded cargoes by November 13 and delivered them by Tuesday.

A total of 12 foreign-flagged tankers carried 3 million barrels of gasoline, diesel, ethanol and other fuels under the waiver, the U.S. Department of Transportation said November 15.

The vessels shipped more than 1 million barrels of gasoline, 674,100 barrels of gasoline blendstocks, 95,900 barrels of ethanol, 846,500 barrels of ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and 336,000 barrels of ultra-low sulfur kerosene.

Meanwhile, USAC stocks rose 1.003 million barrels to 46.11 million barrels, likely as a result of both the Gulf Coast cargoes and a 33,000 barrels per day (b/d) increase in total gasoline imports, which rose to 558,000 b/d.

Despite the stock build, USAC gasoline stocks remained tight, at 12% below the five-year average, compared with a deficit of 8% at the end of October.

U.S. distillate stocks dropped 2.675 million barrels to 112.842 million barrels, bringing the figure to 21.74% below the five-year average of EIA data. Analysts expected distillate stocks to fall 1 million barrels.

U.S. Atlantic Coast stocks fell the most, sliding 1.633 million barrels to 34.446 million barrels. The Lower Atlantic region accounted for most of the draw, falling 1.351 million barrels to 8.336 million barrels.

Lower Atlantic ULSD stocks fell 1.757 million barrels to 6.209 million barrels.

USAC heating oil stocks fell 292,000 barrels to 18.831 million barrels, led by a 620,000-barrel draw in New England stocks, which fell to 5.044 million barrels.

The Gulf Coast, where the bulk of higher sulfur distillate stocks are exported to Latin America, saw its heating oil stocks drop 977,000 barrels to 5.856 million barrels. This helped push total Gulf Coast distillate stocks down 497,000 barrels to 36.963 million barrels.

This was offset by an 809,000-barrel increase in Gulf Coast ULSD stocks, which rose to 28.016 million barrels.

Although much of this is typically exported to Europe, it is possible that Jones Act-waiver cargoes were still being sent to the USAC from the Gulf Coast.

U.S. distillate production rose 100,000 b/d to 4.669 million b/d in the most recent week, led by a 32,000 b/d increase in Gulf Coast production, which rose to 2.684 million b/d.

U.S. commercial crude stocks fell a bullish 1.466 million barrels to 374.47 million barrels, as refinery inputs rose and imports fell. Despite the decline, US crude stocks are still over 13% above the EIA five-year average. Analysts expected a 1 million-barrel increase.

Leading the drop was a 1.423 million-barrel decline in Gulf Coast stocks, which fell to 180.91 million barrels. Gross inputs to Gulf Coast refineries increased 170,000 b/d to 8.145 million b/d, pushing refinery utilization 2 percentage points higher to 93.4% of capacity, the highest since mid-August.

Total U.S. refinery utilization rose 1.5 percentage points to 87.5% of capacity. Gross inputs to U.S. refineries rose 254,000 b/d to 15.2 million b/d. Analysts polled Monday by Platts expected refinery rates to have increased 0.7 percentage points.

Also putting pressure on Gulf Coast stocks was a 174,000 b/d decline in imports to 4.218 million b/d. Total U.S. imports fell 102,000 b/d to 7.769 million b/d.

Meanwhile, Midwest crude stocks rose 1.875 million barrels to 109.13 million barrels, led by a 1.469 million-barrel increase in Cushing, Oklahoma, stocks, which rose to 45.15 million barrels. Stocks at Cushing, the delivery point for the New York Mercantile Exchange's (NYMEX) crude futures contract, are at their highest since mid-August.

For more information on crude oil, visit the Platts website.

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