West Texas Intermediate crude swung between gains and losses as China, the world’s second-biggest oil consumer, increased imports to a record in July.
Futures fluctuated in New York after slipping for a fourth day yesterday. China bought a net 25.9 million metric tons of oil, or 6.13 million barrels a day last month, according to government data. Purchases of the fuel are 13 percent higher than in June. WTI fell yesterday after a report from the Energy Information Administration showed U.S. gasoline supplies rose, while crude inventories fell.
“Crude demand from China has remained relatively robust,” said David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney. “The EIA numbers were a little mixed. Good numbers from China will at least stop the crude price from falling.”
WTI for September delivery was at $104.58 a barrel, up 21 cents in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 4:46 p.m. Sydney time. The volume of all futures traded was 7 percent below the 100-day average. The contract decreased 93 cents to $104.37 yesterday, the lowest since July 30.
Brent for September settlement rose 8 cents to $107.52 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark was at a premium of $2.94 to WTI, compared with $3.07 yesterday.
Total exports from China rose 5.1 percent last month, figures from the General Administration of Customs in Beijing show. They were projected to gain by 2 percent, according to a Bloomberg survey. Imports climbed 10.9 percent, compared with a forecast 1 percent increase in the survey.
China was the second-biggest oil consumer last year, accounting for about 11 percent of global demand, compared with 21 percent for the U.S., according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
U.S. gasoline inventories climbed by 135,000 barrels last week, said the EIA, the Energy Department’s statistical arm. They were projected to fall by 500,000 barrels, according to the median estimate of 11 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Distillate supplies, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, increased by 469,000 barrels, compared with a forecast of no change in the survey.
Gasoline for September delivery fell 4.4 cents to $2.8711 a gallon yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since July 3. Prices were at $2.8795 today.
Refineries operated at an average 90.9 percent of capacity, down 0.4 percentage point from the prior week, according to the EIA. U.S. motor-fuel demand typically rises from the last weekend in May through Labor Day in early September, the nation’s peak vacation season.
Crude inventories fell by 1.3 million barrels to 363.3 million barrels, according to EIA data. They were projected to decline by 1.5 million barrels, the survey shows.
Supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for New York futures and the largest oil storage hub in the U.S., fell by 2.2 million barrels last week to 39.9 million barrels, the EIA said. It’s the lowest level since March 2012 and the fifth week of declines.