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U.S. oil prices settled lower on Wednesday after Saudi Arabia's oil minister said he expects OPEC members to reach a unified decision later this week, but he would not disclose details on the decision, according to Dow Jones reported.
A Gulf OPEC delegate told Reuters the GCC had reached a consensus not to cut oil output. Three OPEC delegates separately told Reuters they believed OPEC was unlikely to cut output when the 12-member organisation meets on Thursday.
WTI crude ended the session 40 cents lower at $73.69 a barrel, not far from its session low $73.30.
Benchmark Brent futures were last down by about 50 cents at $78 a barrel, having hit a low of $77.30 in the session.
U.S. inventory data did little to change the market mood, coming in close to forecasts in a Reuters poll.
U.S. crude stocks rose slightly more than expected last week, while gasoline stocks increased and distillate inventories fell, data from the Energy Information Administration showed.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said the group should "monitor the market carefully" following a meeting with his Saudi Arabian counterpart. Traders noted the lack of any call to cut back output in his comments.
Oil ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meet on Thursday in Vienna.
"This suggests that we won't get any decision on an output cut," said Michael Hewson, oil market analyst at CMC Markets in London. "We're probably going to see oil prices go down towards $70 a barrel."
Oil prices have dropped by a third since June and some OPEC members have called for the cartel to reduce production sharply in an attempt to tighten the market. Predictions for the OPEC meeting range from a large output cut to no action at all.
Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told reporters that he believed the oil market "will stabilize itself eventually," increasing speculation the cartel's largest producer and exporter would not support an output cut.
His comments were echoed by Gulf producer United Arab Emirates. "The market will fix itself ultimately," UAE Oil Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui told Reuters in an interview.
U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.9 million barrels in the last week, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 467,000 barrels, the EIA said.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 1.334 million barrels and gasoline stocks rose by 1.8 million barrels. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 1.6 million barrels.