U.S. crude oil stocks unexpectedly rose last week, while gasoline and distillate product inventories dropped, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Thursday.
Crude inventories were up 614,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 23, compared with expectations for a decrease of 2.1 million barrels.
Oil prices were little changed on the news after a bit of volatility immediately following the release. U.S. crude oil futures were up 1 cent to $54.08 a barrel at 11:38 a.m. EST (1638 GMT), leaving the benchmark just shy of the year high of $54.51 reached on Dec. 12.
"What seems to be giving this report kind of a bullish tilt is the fact that we saw pretty a good drawdown in both gasoline and distillate inventories," said Phil Flynn, trader at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
Gasoline stocks fell 1.6 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.3 million-barrel rise.
U.S. gasoline futures rose up 0.8 percent to $1.6886 a gallon, edging off earlier highs following the data. Trading was very thin, however, with less than 4,000 contracts changing hands, compared with an average of 50,000 a day over the past 200 days.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil
, fell 1.9 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.8 million-barrel increase, the EIA said.
Kyle Cooper, analyst at ION Energy in Houston, noted that sharp declines in stocks across the energy complex show a tightening between supply and demand, even as crude inventories rose.
"You look at those underlying total inventory numbers and they were very, very solid. Crude's just a small portion of the overall complex," he said.
U.S. crude imports fell last week by 374,000 barrels per day.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose 172,000 barrels, EIA said.
Refinery crude runs fell by 101,000 bpd as utilization rates fell 0.5 percentage point to 91 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed.
(Reporting By David Gaffen; additional reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by Marguerita Choy)