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Crude Slips on Inventory Build

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil futures slumped Wednesday after government data revealed a bigger-than-expected build in inventory levels last week.

Crude stockpiles rose by 1.9 million barrels for the week ending April 16, the Energy Information Administration reported in the morning, though a survey of analysts from Platts projected the government would report a lighter build of 300,000 barrels. The bigger-than-forecast rise also counters the American Petroleum Institute's estimates released late Tuesday reflecting a drawdown of 741,000 barrels.

Crude oil stockpiles stood at 355.9 million by week's end, which the EIA continued to characterize as the "upper limit of the average for this time of year."

The June delivery crude oil contract, which was trading higher before the release, sold off sharply in the aftermath, slipping as low as $82.92 during the session. The contract finished the session down by 17 cents, or 0.2%, at $83.68 a barrel.

The government also reported bearish fuel supply figures. Gasoline inventories, which were forecast to show a 100,000-barrel build, reportedly increased by 3.6 million barrels last week. Distillate stocks added another 2.1 million barrels, despite estimates forecasting a jump of only 840,000 barrels.

Refinery run rates edged just higher, operating at 85.9% from 85.6% the week before, which landed about in-line with expectations.

Jeff Mower, editor-in-chief of the Platts Oilgram Price Report, said gasoline demand on a four-week moving average was up for the ninth consecutive week, but distillate demand remains weak.

"In contrast to gasoline, distillate demand on a four-week moving average has been on the decline, falling to 3.583 million barrels a day last week from 3.761 million barrels a day the week ending March 19," Mower wrote in his commentary on the latest inventory data. "That demand is trending lower after the end of the heating season, which is not unusual. But distillate demand remains well below the five-year average, which is a bearish consideration for the Nymex heating oil futures contract."

The June gasoline contract was finished 0.1% higher, settling at $2.30 a gallon, while June heating oil gained 3 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $2.23 a gallon.

Related stocks also lost ground on the government report. The NYSE Arca Oil index lost 0.8%, and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index declined 0.9%.

On the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Chevron (CVX - Get Report) lost 13 cents, or 0.2%, to $81.92 while while Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) shed 5 cents, or 0.07%, to $68.92.

Shares of Lufkin Industries (LUFK) gave up 6.3% after the servicer offered a leery assessment for the year despite besting first-quarter earnings forecasts in the morning, according to Reuters.

Weatherford (WFT - Get Report) had its estimates trimmed through 2012 by Goldman Sachs (GS) after reporting a first-quarter loss on Tuesday. Shares slid 3.4% lower to $16.62.

ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) said it was opting out of a refinery project in Saudi Arabia. In a press statement, Willie Chiang, senior vice president for refining, marketing and transportation said, "we ultimately decided this project was not consistent with our current strategy to reduce our downstream footprint." The stock lost 18 cents, or 0.3%, to $57.22.

An explosion on an oil rig off the Louisiana coastline critically injured seven workers late Tuesday evening, The Associated Press reported. The offshore platform is owned by Transocean (RIG - Get Report) and is under contract by BP (BP - Get Report). Both shares finished the session lower, by 1.8% and 0.6%, respectively.

Elsewhere on the Nymex, the May natural gas contract lost 2 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $3.96 per million British thermal units, ahead of its own EIA storage report due Thursday morning. A Platts survey is projecting that natural gas storage levels rose by 76 to 80 billion cubic feet.

--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York.

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