Wednesday, January 27, 2010

FRANKFURT (MarketWatch) -- Oil futures edged higher on Wednesday after an industry report showed that U.S. crude-oil inventories unexpectedly declined last week.

Crude oil for March delivery gained 22 cents, or 0.3%, to $74.93 a barrel in electronic trading on Globex.

Crude supplies fell by 2.2 million barrels during the week ended Jan. 22, the American Petroleum Institute reported late Tuesday after the close of regular trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The drop in crude inventories is "largely attributable to lower oil imports on the back of fog in the Houston Ship Channel, which prevented the timely clearing of oil tankers," said analysts at Commerzbank AG in a note to clients.

Distillate stocks dropped by 1.9 million barrels, while gasoline inventories increased 916,000 barrels, the API said. Refinery utilization improved to 77.6% from 77.3% the previous week.

The Energy Information Administration will release its more closely watched data at 10:30 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Wednesday.

Analysts polled by Platts expect a 2-million-barrel increase in commercial crude-oil supplies for the week ended Jan. 22. They also project an increase of 1.7 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a decrease of 1.8 million barrels in distillate supplies.

"Market sentiment has become more bearish during the past several days, which may prevent a price increase," the Commerzbank analysts said. Hence, the EIA data "may, at best, keep oil prices from falling."

On the economic front, data on new-home sales for December will be released at 10 a.m. Eastern. Investors are also awaiting the monetary-policy statement of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is due around 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

Economists expect the central bank to keep the federal funds rate unchanged at between 0 and 0.25% and confirm that rates will stay extraordinarily low for an extended period.

Crude-oil prices ended slightly lower on Tuesday, as concerns escalated about China's attempts to slow its economic growth and the consequent repercussions for its energy demand.

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