(Adds analyst comments, oil futures prices)
NEW YORK, May 28 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil inventories last week fell for a fourth week as refineries hiked output to the highest rate this year and imports slid, while gasoline stocks fell from unusually high seasonal levels, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Thursday.
Crude inventories fell 2.8 million barrels to 479.4 million in the week to May 22, compared with analysts’ expectations for an decrease of 857,000 barrels.
U.S. crude imports fell 477,000 barrels per day to 6.26 million bpd while stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub drew down 433,000 barrels, the fifth straight weekly decline, the EIA said.
U.S. July crude futures, however, were down 50 cents at $57.01 a barrel at 11:54 a.m. EDT (1554 GMT), having fallen to $56.51.
Brent July crude seesawed near flat and was up 2 cents at $62.08, having turned higher after falling to $61.24.
“The market hasn’t rebounded too much and that’s probably because of the U.S. production figure,” said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
The four-week average for U.S. crude oil production rose by 48,000 bpd to 9.39 million bpd last week after declines in six straight reports, EIA said, helping temper crude prices after the data release.
Refinery crude runs rose 237,000 bpd, pushing runs to 16.45 million bpd, the highest rate so far this year, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates rose by 1.2 percentage points to 93.6 percent of capacity.
Capacity use on the refinery rich U.S. Gulf Coast jumped 1.9 percentage points to 95 percent, the highest level for the period since at least 2010, according to EIA data.
“The EIA report was bullish except for the distillate number,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
“The big draw down for gasoline and the higher refinery utilization shows that refiner demand for crude is strong,” Flynn added.
Gasoline stocks fell 3.3 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 429,000-barrel drop. Inventories have been at the highest seasonal levels in over a decade so far this year, but recent declines are narrowing the surplus.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 1.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 321,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
U.S. RBOB gasoline futures pushed higher and ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) futures were choppy near unchanged after the EIA report. (Reporting by Jonathan Leff, Robert Gibbons and Barani Krishnan in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)