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Oil ticks up 20 cents, settling at $52.31, as rising US supply caps gains

Key Points
  • Oil prices are under pressure after climbing about 3 percent in the previous session.
  • Worries about the global economy and forecasts of swelling U.S. production weigh on sentiment.
  • U.S. crude stockpiles fall by 2.7 million barrels, while fuel inventories are sharply higher.
Oil operations in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas
Nick Oxford | Reuters

Oil prices steadied on Wednesday after a 3 percent rise during the previous session, after data showed growing U.S. refined product inventories and record crude production, which could undermine global efforts to support prices.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures ended Wednesday's session 20 cents higher at $52.31 a barrel. Brent crude oil futures rose 68 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $61.32 per barrel.

U.S. fuel stockpiles last week rose more than forecast and for the fourth straight week, the Energy Information Administration said, outweighing a bigger-than-expected crude drawdown.

Gasoline stockpiles rose 7.5 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.8 million-barrel gain. At 255.6 million barrels, gasoline stocks at the highest weekly level since February of 2017.

Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, increased 3 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.6 million-barrel rise, the data showed.

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Crude inventories fell 2.7 million barrels, more than double forecasts.

"The continued strong rise in oil product stocks is bearish and overshadows the draw in crude oil stocks," said Carsten Fritsch, senior commodities analyst at Commerzbank.

The EIA also said U.S. crude production rose to a record high of 11.9 million barrels per day last week, as crude exports jumped close to record highs near 3 million bpd.

Growing U.S production and exports have weighed on oil prices. Output is expected to grow to a new record of more than 12 million bpd this year, with U.S. turning into a net crude exporter in late 2020, the EIA said on Tuesday.

The rising output could undermine oil markets which have been receiving support from supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including top exporter Saudi Arabia, and major non-OPEC producer Russia.

Mounting signs of an economic slowdown across the world may also keep oil prices in check.

White House estimates showed on Tuesday that the U.S. economy is taking a larger-than-expected hit from a partial government shutdown.

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The outlook for the global economy darkened further after Britain's parliament on Tuesday shot down Prime Minister Theresa May's deal to leave the European Union.

Earlier this week, China reported poor December trade data, with exports and imports contracting from a year earlier.

China's central bank on Wednesday made its biggest daily net cash injection via reverse repo operations on record, in efforts oil markets will watch closely.

"(China's) rapidly expanding economy and ... thirst for oil has in recent years provided a major pillar of price support," Stephen Brennock, analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil, said.

"This unprecedented slowdown will weigh on the global oil market and do no favors for those hoping for a sustained recovery in prices."

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.