By DAVID BIRD
NEW YORK -- US oil demand rose a slim 0.6% in March from a year earlier, to 18.3 million bpd, the American Petroleum Institute said in date available Monday.
Despite the modest rise of about 100,000 bpd, demand was the second lowest in March since 1997, the trade group said.
In the first quarter 2013, demand dropped 0.4%, to 18.33 million bpd.
"Tepid growth and high unemployment are still burdening the economy and holding demand down," John Felmy, API's chief economist said in a statement accompanying the data. "The recovery is a sputtering engine with a cylinder or two still not firing."
Demand for gasoline, the most widely used petroleum product in the world's biggest oil consumer, fell 2.3% in March to a 13-year low of 8.4 million bpd. First-quarter gasoline use was off 1.7% from the same time in 2012, at 8.336 million bpd.
The US Energy Information Administration has said increase in vehicle fuel-efficiency is cutting gasoline consumption.
Demand for distillate fuel rose by 5% in March from a year earlier and gained 1.3% in the first quarter from the 2012 level.
US temperatures in March were the coldest for the month in 11 years, a chilly turnabout from warmest-ever temperatures a year earlier, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said earlier this week.
Jet fuel use fell 2.6% in March on a year-on-year basis and was 4% lower in the first quarter than in the same period in 2012.
The boom in US crude oil output from drilling in shale oil fields continued in March, with output climbing 13.8% from a year earlier, to 7.146 million bpd, a 21-year high for the month. First-quarter crude output climbed 14.1% year-on-year to 7.08 million bpd.
Rising domestic output slashed crude oil imports in March by 7.2% from a year earlier, to 8.134 million bpd, the lowest March level in 15 years. First-quarter crude imports averaged 7.964 million bpd, down 7.8% from the same period a year earlier.
In March, total crude and refined products imports were 10 million bpd, in March, the lowest level for the month since 1998 and down by 5.3% from March 2012.
First-quarter total imports were down 6.5% from the same period a year earlier, at 9.986 million bpd.
Inputs to refineries rose in March by 0.4% from a year earlier, to 14.866 million bpd, but first-quarter processing lagged the 2012 first quarter by 0.6%.
Gasoline production fell by 0.9% year-on-year to 8.7 million bpd, a five-year low for March. The extra supply allowed for an increase in refined products exports, which gained 1.2% in March from the year earlier level, to 3.1 million bpd. Distillate fuel production at 4.3 million bpd, rose 1% year-on-year to its second highest March level. Distillate output topped demand for the fuel by around 400,000 bpd.
The refinery utilization rate averaged 83.9% in March 2013, up 0.1% from the prior month but down 2.0% from a year earlier. API said refinery operable capacity was 17.718 million bpd.
Crude oil stocks ended March at 387.9 million bbl, a 32-year high for the month. Stocks rose 2.3% from February and were up 5.4% from the March 2012 level.
End-March gasoline stocks at 221.2 million bbl were down 3.9% from February, but were up 1.1% from year-earlier levels. Distillate fuel stocks ended at a five-year low, of 114.8 million bbl, down 14.2% from a year earlier.
Dow Jones Newswires