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June 23 (Reuters) - U.S. crude and gasoline stocks fell sharply last week, even as refining activity dipped modestly, with demand continuing to grow, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell by 7.6 million barrels in the week to June 18 to 459.1 million barrels, their lowest since March 2020. The draw was nearly double analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 3.9 million-barrel drop.
Crude inventories are down by 9% since mid-March as refiners have boosted activity in advance of peak driving season and rebounding economic activity.
"You have a gasoline draw and a crude oil draw in the same week, so apparent gasoline demand has caught up to all the crude oil going through the refineries," Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.
Refinery crude runs fell by 225,000 barrels per day in the last week, however, with utilization rates dropping by 0.4 percentage point to a still-strong 92.2%.
U.S. gasoline stocks fell by 2.9 million barrels in the week, compared with analysts' expectations for an 833,000-barrel rise.
The four-week average of overall product supplied 19.5 million bpd, about 14.5% higher than the pandemic-influenced period from a year ago. That average is still below 2019 levels, but demand is continuing to increase.
"People are getting back in their cars again and that's showing up in the numbers in a big way," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group.
Oil prices were higher, with U.S. crude gaining 1.4% to $73.84 a barrel as of 10:47 a.m. EDT (1447 GMT), while Brent rose 1.2% to $75.72 a barrel.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 1.8 million barrels versus expectations for a 1.1 million-barrel rise. (Reporting By David Gaffen Editing by Marguerita Choy)