US crude edges up 25 cents, settling at $60.96, in choppy trade after mixed US stockpiles data

Key Points
  • U.S. crude inventories rose more than expected in the latest week, according to weekly government figures.
  • However, the data showed a bigger than anticipated drop in in stockpiles of gasoline and other fuels.
  • Strong Chinese factory data and a decline in the country's crude output supported the oil market, but relentless growth in U.S. output weighed on crude futures.
Oil jack pumps in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, California.
Jonathan Alcorn | Reuters

Oil prices were higher in choppy trade on Wednesday, as a bigger-than-expected U.S. crude stock build pressured prices, but large draws of fuel stocks provided some support.

U.S. crude stocks rose by 5 million barrels, the biggest jump since late January, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said. Expectations had been for a 2 million barrel build. The effect was offset somewhat by a larger-than-expected draw on fuel stocks.

"I don't think we have a clear set of directions, and I don't think this (EIA) report gives that much of an insight as to whether the rebalance continues or not. We continue to just chop around here," said Gene McGillian, manager of market research at Tradition Energy.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures ended Wednesday's session up 25 cents at $60.96 a barrel. Brent crude was last up 28 cents at $64.92 a barrel, climbing from an earlier low of $64.06.

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"We're not pressuring the downside that much. Of course, the reason is because we had some unexpectedly large draws in distillates and gasoline that, when added together, are two times bigger than the crude build," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

Gasoline stocks fell by 6.3 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.2 million-barrel drop. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, declined by 4.4 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.5 million-barrel draw, the EIA data showed.

OPEC said in its monthly report that supply from non-members is likely to grow by 1.66 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, almost double the growth it predicted in November, largely due to rising U.S. supply.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries also said oil inventories across the most industrialized countries rose in January for the first time in eight months, a sign the impact of its output cuts may be waning. OPEC trimmed its 2018 demand forecast for its own crude by 250,000 bpd to 32.61 million bpd, the fourth consecutive decline.

Commerzbank strategist Carsten Fritsch said that "according to the OPEC report, demand for OPEC's oil must be 33 million barrels per day for the rest of the year to get rid of any remaining oversupply."

Brent price has fallen by around 1 percent so far this week on concerns that coordinated supply cuts by OPEC and its partners might not be enough to offset the relentless rise in U.S. crude production.

U.S. oil production rose to nearly 10.4 million barrels a day, according to EIA's weekly report. American output is expected to top 11 million bpd later this year.

Oil prices got a boost early in the session from a broader investor push into commodities after Chinese data showed industrial production in the world's largest importer of raw materials grew more than expected over the first two months of the year.

Oil may also soon get some support from seasonal demand.

"We are now only two to four weeks away from when weekly oil inventory data will start to draw again which should be supportive for oil prices," SEB commodities strategist Bjarne Schieldrop said.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.