Oil prices hold above $71 a barrel
Oil prices rose Thursday, despite expectations that U.S. government fuel stocks data would show rising gasoline supplies.
Expectations of increasing refinery output kept upward pressure in check along with the projected increase in gasoline stocks. Still, concerns persisted because of the high-use summer driving season in the U.S. And resurgent violence in oil-rich Nigeria also supported prices.
Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose 28 cents to $71.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midday in Europe compared to Tuesday`s settlement at $71.41.
The market was closed to floor trading Wednesday in the United States for the Forth of July holiday.
August Brent crude rose 56 cents to $73.61 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Trade has been sluggish in the absence of U.S. traders and the market was awaiting the weekly fuel inventory report by the U.S. Energy Department`s Energy Information Administration later Thursday for a clearer price direction, analysts said.
"Traders are going to take a break in Asian hours (due to the lack of liquidity). They are focusing on EIA oil data due later today," broker Ken Hasegawa of Fimat Japan told Dow Jones Newswires.
This week`s U.S. petroleum supply snapshot has been delayed until Thursday due to the U.S. holiday. Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected gasoline inventories to have increased by an average of 700,000 barrels last week.
Refinery utilization is expected to have risen 1.1 percentage points to 90.5 percent, building on the previous week`s gain. The increase in refinery runs is expected to have tapped into crude inventories, which were near 9-year highs.
Vienna`s PVM Oil Associates spoke of "several (refinery) restarts in the reporting week" that increased overall output "despite recent outages at ... Coffeyville and Flint Hills" - two major U.S. refineries.
Analysts, on average, expect crude inventories to have fallen by 500,000 barrels in the week ended June 29. Distillate inventories, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, are expected to have declined by 200,000 barrels.
Markets also appeared to be reacting to the return of oil-related violence in Nigeria, where police said kidnappers snatched the 3-year-old daughter of an expatriate worker as she was being taken to school Thursday in Nigeria`s lawless southern oil region. On Wednesday gunmen attacked a rig in the same region and seized five expatriate workers.
Wednesday`s attack was on a drilling rig on one of the countless islands in the vast delta region where Africa`s biggest oil producer pumps its crude, an official said. An Australian, two New Zealanders, one Lebanese and one Venezuelan were taken, he said.
Royal Dutch Shell said it owned the rig, but that there were no production cuts reported.
Nymex heating oil futures were up half a cent at $2.0827 a gallon (3.8 liters), while natural gas prices were up by just over 2 cents to $6.682 per 1,000 cubic feet.