U.S. exported more gasoline than imported last year
By Michael Winter
For the first time since 1949, the United States exported more gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel last year than it imported, the Energy Department reported today.
Bloomberg writes that to offset weak U.S. demand, refiners exported 439,000 barrels a day more than were imported the year before. In 2010, daily imports averaged 269,000 barrels, according to the Petroleum Supply Monthly report.
Imports of crude oil and related products fell 11% last year, reaching a level not seen since 1995.
News of record gasoline exports comes as the pump price rose today for the 22nd straight day ($3.78 a gallon average) and the Energy Department reported separately that gasoline inventories fell last week while crude oil inventories and imports rose.
Crude oil inventories swelled by 4.2 million barrels last week, more than four times what analysts expected and eight times the estimate of the American Petroleum Institute, 24/7 Wall St. says, adding, “To say that the increase in imports is counter-intuitive is not an overstatement.”
Refineries were running at 83.6% of capacity last week, according to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly report on petroleum supplies.
Separately, in a piece headlined “Oil Refiners Look To Exports Growing Profit,” 24/7 Wall St. writes: “The rise in imports could be the result of the decline in refined products, but more likely is that the imported crude is being refined and the refined products are being exported.”
The article explains what major oil companies and U.S. refineries — Valero Energy, Tesoro, Marathon Petroleum and HollyFrontier — are doing to boost their profit margins:
Crude at Gulf Coast refineries is priced at the Brent crude import price, no matter where it comes from. Refineries in the US interior are typically able to get the vast majority of their crude at or below domestic the WTI [West Texas Intermediary] crude price. Today, a barrel of Brent costs about $121, and a barrel of WTI costs about $106. That $15 difference in feedstock pricing pays dividends at the refinery. …
To boost margins at Gulf Coast refineries, Valero and the others are exporting more refined products, both gasoline and the higher-priced diesel fuel. …
The secret to making a profit in refining these days is for refiners to source crude oil domestically and then sell the refined products to US consumers at prices based on imported oil. Valero can’t do that, but Marathon, Tesoro, and HollyFrontier can. …
Despite higher-than-expected oil inventories and less driving by Americans, the price of crude oil finished higher today.