Oil settles higher after ninth weekly US crude drawdown

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Oil prices rose as much as 1 percent on Wednesday, lifting U.S. crude from two-month lows, after the U.S. government reported a ninth straight week of crude inventory draws, easing some concerns in a market worried about a glut.

U.S. gasoline prices, however, hit four-month lows after the data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration also showed a surprise build in supplies of the motor fuel despite forecasts of American drivers hitting the road in record numbers this summer.

The EIA said crude inventories fell 2.3 million barrels in the week to July 15, close to analysts' expectations for a decrease of 2.1 million barrels.

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"While in line with expectations, the drawdown is large enough to provide support, and refiner demand for crude remains elevated," said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.

Gasoline stocks rose 911,000 barrels, compared with forecasts for stocks to remain unchanged.

Stocks of the motor fuel rose in spite of gasoline output slipping 168,000 barrels per day even as refinery crude runs increased 319,000 bpd, the EIA data showed.

"We continue to see these builds in gasoline which suggest the market is fundamentally not sound to sustain a rally," said Tariq Zahir, a trader in WTI crude spreads at Tyche Capital Advisors in New York.

Brent crude's front-month contract, settled up 51 cents, or 1 percent, at $47.17 a barrel, and last traded up 34 cents a barrel at $47..

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude August contract expired as the front-month after rising 29 cents, or 0.7 percent, to settle at $44.94 a barrel. August WTI hit a two-month low of $43.69 earlier. September WTI, front-month from Thursday onwards, also settled up 0.7 percent.

The August WTI contract last traded up 29 cents at $44.94. The September contract traded up 11 cents at $45.56.

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Brent's premium versus WTI reached its widest since the end of April, enhancing U.S. crude's export potential.

U.S. gasoline fell nearly 1 percent to settle at $1.3637 per gallon. It hit a March low of $1.3381 earlier.

Oil prices are up nearly 75 percent since hitting 12-year lows of around $27 for Brent and about $26 for WTI in the first quarter. The rally stalled after the two benchmarks breached the $50 psychological barrier in May amid worries that higher prices will add to production.

Prices had been depressed lately by a glut in motor fuels despite the U.S. peak summer driving season.

"Absolute inventories rose to yet another new all-time record" last week, Kyle Cooper, analyst at IAF Advisors in Houston said, referring to the 2.1 billion barrels of total petroleum supply, including strategic reserve stocks, cited by the EIA.

"Next week may see an increase in refined product output," he added.