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After dipping a toe beneath $100 a barrel yesterday, US crude oil futures have plunged well beneath that mark today, dropping 2% to stand at $98.00 a barrel by mid-afternoon in New York.
The commodity was already down significantly down in earlier trading, but its losses were exacerbated by the release of weekly inventory data from the Energy Information Administration, the reporting arm of the US Energy Department.
The report showed the US stockpile of oil increased last week by 6.18 million barrels, more than three times larger than had been forecast by analysts polled by Bloomberg. The surprising size of that build has been the focus of the market, although the news is offset to some degree by a steep decline in gasoline stocks and another reduction in stores at Cushing, Oklahoma, the oil hub that is the price-settlement point for WTI futures.
Gasoline inventories fell by 5.23 million barrels to 223.8 million barrels, the low for the year so far. Distillate fuels also declined, dropping 533,000 barrels, which was slightly more than anticipated.
As we would expect for this time of year, when refineries are being idled for maintenance as we come out of the winter heating season, rates of operation are moving lower, down 1.4% from the week before.