Oil steady above US$91 after surprise US supply increase


SINGAPORE — Oil prices were steady above US$91 a barrel Thursday in Asia after a report showed U.S. crude supplies unexpectedly rose last week, which suggests that a recovery in demand may have slowed. Benchmark oil for February delivery rose 19 cents to US$91.31 a barrel late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 37 cents to settle at US$91.12 on Wednesday. In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil added 0.4 cent to US$2.53 a gallon and gasoline futures gained 2.0 cents to US$2.41 a gallon. February natural gas futures advanced 3.5 cents to US$4.32 per 1,000 cubic feet. In London, Brent crude rose 17 cents to US$94.31 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said late Wednesday that crude inventories rose 3.1 million barrels last week while analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., had forecast a drop of 3.2 million barrels. The crude supply increase was the first in five weeks and just the second in the last nine. Inventories are 4 percent above last year and 9.3 percent higher than the average from 2004 to 2008. “This should raise concerns about demand levels relative to supply,” energy consultant The Schork Report said. Inventories of gasoline fell 3.1 million barrels and distillates added 1.4 million barrels, the API said. The U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration reports its weekly supply data later Thursday. Traders will be closely watching the latest data on weekly U.S. jobless claims, pending home sales and industrial production to gauge the strength of the economic recovery. Oil has hovered above US$91 this week amid thin year-end trading volume. Global oil markets are closed Friday for the New Year’s Day holiday.