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Demand weakness suggested in U.S. energy data

The amount of refined petroleum products supplied to the U.S. economy, a proxy for demand, remains below year-ago levels amid concerns of slower growth ahead, federal data Wednesday show.

Data supplied by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, show total crude oil inventories remain bloated. While levels declined by a staggering 7.5 million barrels from the week ending March 17, inventories are about 6% above the five-year average for this time of year.

For refined petroleum products, EIA data show gasoline inventories are 4% below the five-year average, but over the last four weeks, gasoline production is actually up some 5.1% relative to year-ago levels, suggesting demand is more or less healthy.

But for the total amount of refined petroleum products supplied to the market during the week ending March 24, data show the average of 19.7 million barrels per day is down by 5.1% from this time last year.

Analysts use that data point as a proxy for overall demand. For the similar week in 2019, to discount the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, EIA data show total products supplied was 20.7 million bpd.

Lingering inflationary pressures and the end to pandemic-era stimulus for low-income households may be crimping overall demand. An overview of expected EIA data sent late Tuesday to UPI from S&P Global Commodity Insights suggest some of the data, meanwhile, could be a reflection of refinery issues.

Refineries go through a regular season of maintenance around the same time that they start to make a summer-blend of gasoline, which requires additional processing to keep it from evaporating in warmer months.

U.S. crude oil exports, meanwhile, averaged 4.4 million bpd last week, S&P found, while EIA data show imports averaged 5.3 million bpd, a decline of 874,000 bpd from the previous week.

In general, economic conditions seem to be improving, with the latest survey from The Conference Board showing optimism at the consumer level. But a survey of state manufacturers published Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shows a degree of uncertainty.

A respondent from the mineral product manufacturing sector said they were laying off workers for the first time since 2010, while a member of the machine manufacturing sector said they're working hand-to-mouth.

"Our outlook is horrible," the respondent said.

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