Futures Movers: Oil prices nudge higher despite expected rise in U.S. stockpiles

Oil prices edged higher on Wednesday, up for only their second session in the past six, ahead of the latest U.S. inventory data.

That report is expected to show a rise in crude stocks, the third weekly gain in a row, although largely in line with seasonal trends.

April West Texas Intermediate crude CLJ8, +0.77%  rose 53 cents, or 0.9%, to $61.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract tried for gains in the precious session, pushing briefly above $62, but gave up that run in the wake of perceived risks to the Iran nuclear deal after U.S. President Donald Trump’s ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

May Brent crude LCOK8, +0.48% the global oil benchmark, was up 49 cents, or 0.7%, to $65.11 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Oil traders looked ahead to a weekly EIA due Wednesday that is expected to reveal a rise in U.S. crude supplies for a third week in a row. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts expect the EIA to report an increase of 2.5 million barrels in stockpiles.

They also forecast supply declines in gasoline of 1.3 million and 1.4 million for distillates, which include heating oil. Trade group the American Petroleum Institute will release its own petroleum stockpile report late Tuesday.

Data published by industry group the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday showed a build in crude oil stocks of 1.2 million barrels last week, while gasoline and distillate inventories fell, consistent with seasonal trends. During the U.S. refinery maintenance season, crude oil stocks tend to build while product stocks fall.

“Generally they start to come back from mid-March, so within the next two or three weeks we should see quite a large rise in refinery utilization,” said Tom Pugh, commodities economist at consultancy Capital Economics.

The oil market continued to be caught between rising U.S. output and efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers to cut output.

Some analysts expect OPEC’s monthly report, due Wednesday, to show that the cartel’s output fell in February, as compliance with the deal to hold back production by 1.8 million barrels a day until the end of 2018 has been strong thus far. Analysts will also be on the lookout for any changes to OPEC’s forecasts for U.S. production.

The International Energy Agency and the EIA have both recently revised their U.S. oil production forecasts higher. Output has been helped by the 25% rise in oil prices over the past year, along with improvements in efficiency and technology.

“This U.S. shale engine is not expected to run out of steam anytime soon,” said Stephen Brennock, analyst at brokerage PVM.

On Nymex, April gasoline RBJ8, +0.64%  rose 0.9% to $1.9032 a gallon, while April heating oil HOJ8, +0.64%  rose 0.8% to $1.8904 a gallon.

April natural gas NGJ18, -1.58%  pulled back by 5 cents or 1.9% at $2.732 per million British thermal units. Forecasts for more cold weather in the eastern U.S. had boosted expectations for heating demand, lifting prices sharply across Monday and Tuesday’s trading.

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