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Oil up 6% as dollar falls on worry of slow US rate hike

Oil prices jumped more than 5 percent on Wednesday as the dollar fell after the Federal Reserve indicated it preferred a more gradual path to normalizing U.S. interest rates despite being open to the first rate hike in almost a decade.

Benchmark Brent saw choppy moves earlier in the session while U.S. crude prices were down after inventories in the United States hit record highs for a 10th week amid a peak in supplies at the futures' delivery hub.

The dollar's tumble on the Fed's latest policy statement, however, powered oil higher.

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Brent closed up $2.40, or 4.5 percent, at $55.91 a barrel, after rallying more than $3 after the Fed statement. The contract traded up $3.26, or 6 percent, at $56.77 by 4:03 p.m. EDT (1803 GMT)

U.S. crude settled up $1.20, or almost 3 percent, at $44.66. It had fallen more than $1 earlier after the government inventory data. Futures were last up $1.65, or 3.8 percent, at $45.11.

Workers walk down the stairs of an oil storage tank at the Musket Corp. Windsor Crude Terminal in Windsor, Colorado.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Workers walk down the stairs of an oil storage tank at the Musket Corp. Windsor Crude Terminal in Windsor, Colorado.

Refined oil products rallied too, keeping place with the run-up in crude. U.S. New York ultra-low sulfur diesel and RBOB gasoline rose nearly 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

The Fed opened the door further for an interest rate hike as early as June, ending its pledge to be "patient" in normalizing monetary policy. But it also made it clear that it needs to see more gains in the labor market and price growth to raise rates.

The dollar fell against most major currencies after the statement. A weaker dollar raises the appeal of dollar-denominated commodities, including oil, for holders of other currencies.

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Oil markets diverged earlier on Wednesday with Brent rising while U.S. crude prices fell after domestic inventories hit record highs for a 10th week and supplies at the futures' delivery hub hit a peak.

U.S. crude inventories rose 9.6 million barrels to a new record of 458.5 million barrels in the week to March 13, figures from the government-run Energy Information Administration showed.

Benchmark Brent oil, initially down, turned choppy after the EIA data, which also showed a bigger-than-expected drop in gasoline stocks and a small build in distillates despite forecasts for a drawdown.

U.S. crude fell almost 3 percent after all-time high for crude stocks piled up at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point.

John Kilduff, a partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital, said the EIA numbers on U.S. crude builds were "too big a factor to ignore."

"Speculation over storage capacity limits will only increase," he said.