(Adds data, analyst comments, crude futures prices)
By Robert Gibbons
Sept 4 (Reuters) - U.S. crude stocks fell less than expected last week, while gasoline stocks decreased and distillate inventories rose unexpectedly, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Thursday.
Crude inventories fell by 905,000 barrels in the last week, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.1 million barrels.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 385,000 barrels, EIA said.
Refinery crude runs fell by 114,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed, and the refinery utilization rate dipped 0.2 percentage point to 93.3 percent of capacity.
Gasoline stocks fell by 2.3 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.3 million-barrel drop.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 605,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 500,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
U.S. crude imports rose last week by 42,000 barrels per day.
“The report is a little bearish because of the build in crude inventories on the Gulf Coast, in PADD 3, and with crude stocks off a little in Cushing, it points to the Gulf Coast becoming more relevant,” said Dominick Chirichella, senior partner at Energy Management Institute in New York.
Crude stocks in the PADD (Petroleum Administration for Defense District) 3 region, on the U.S. Gulf Coast rose 659,000 barrels to 189.7 million barrels last week, the EIA data showed.
A crude stocks drop of 1.7 million barrels on the West Coast (PADD 5) was the main source of the drop in total U.S. crude stocks.
Chirichella believes any bullish effect from the drop in gasoline inventories should be tempered because the drop reflected product moving to retail ahead of the Labor Day holiday and stocks being allowed to drop ahead of the switch from summer-specification gasoline.
Other market participants thought the EIA report was more supportive.
“The report is mildly supportive, due mostly to the large gasoline inventory drawdown,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
“The improving economic conditions and lower retail prices for gasoline are having an effect,” Kilduff said.
Economic data released on Thursday showed private payrolls increased less than expected in August, but it was the fifth straight month of private-sector job growth. Another report showed the U.S. service sector activity at a nine-year high.
“Gasoline demand remains strong, as a result,” said Kilduff.
Brent October crude was down 75 cents at $102.02 a barrel at 11:53 a.m EDT (1553 GMT), after being off only 25 cents in the minute before the EIA report was released.
U.S. October crude was down $1.07 at $94.47 a barrel, after being down 56 cents just ahead of the report. (Additional reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)