Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Crude inventories rose more than expected last week and gasoline stockpiles increased despite analysts’ predictions for a steep drop, as demand for motor fuel fell slightly, according to government data released Wednesday.

For the week ended March 27 crude inventories rose by 2.8 million barrels, or 0.8 percent, to 359.4 million barrels, which is 15.5 percent above year-ago levels, the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report.

Analysts expected a boost of 3.2 million barrels, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

Gasoline inventories rose by 2.2 million barrels, or 1 percent, to 216.8 million barrels, which is 1 percent above year-ago levels. Analysts expected stockpiles of the motor fuel to fall by 1.8 million barrels.

Demand for gasoline over the four weeks ended March 27 was 0.2 percent lower than a year earlier, averaging 9 million barrels a day.

At the same time, U.S. refineries ran at 81.7 percent of total capacity on average, a drop of 0.3 percentage point from the prior week. Analysts expected capacity to rise 0.2 percentage point to 82.2 percent.

Inventories of distillate fuel, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 300,000 barrels to 144.2 million barrels for the week ended March 27. Analysts expected distillate stocks to fall by 1.4 million barrels.

At the pump, gas prices fell less than a penny overnight to a national average of $2.047 a gallon Wednesday, and remain well below the year-ago average of $3.286 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

After the report was released, light, sweet crude fell $1.31 to $48.35 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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