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March 11 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose more than expected last week, but gasoline and distillate inventories fell sharply amid low refinery rates, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories rose 7.7 million barrels in the week to March 6, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for an increase of 2.3 million barrels.
Gasoline stocks fell 5 million barrels, double analysts’ forecasts. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, dropped 6.4 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.9 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Analysts said the divergent path of crude and product inventories was due to relatively low refining utilization rates, currently at 86.4% of total nationwide capacity and about on a par with the last two years.
“What you continue to see is refinery utilization rates are low, accounting for product draws and crude builds. Gasoline demand is still pretty strong and distillate demand is still pretty strong,” Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy, said.
U.S. crude futures were down 92 cents, or 2.7%, to $33.43 a barrel as of 10:55 a.m. ET (1455 GMT). Brent crude lost 99 cents, or 2.7%, to $36.25 a barrel.
Refinery crude runs rose by 6,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 0.5 percentage point overall.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 704,000 barrels, EIA said.
Net U.S. crude imports rose last week by 918,000 bpd. (Reporting By David Gaffen Editing by Marguerita Choy)