Crude oil edges up to near US$100 a barrel ahead of US stockpiles report

The price of oil edged up to near US$100 a barrel Wednesday as energy investors waited for the latest figures on U.S. crude and fuel stockpiles.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 25 cents at $99.95 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The April contract expires Thursday and the more heavily-traded May contract was down 11 cents at $98.77.

On Tuesday, the April Nymex contract gained $1.62 to $99.70 on Tuesday after strong U.S. factory data and an apparent easing in tensions over Ukraine.

Investors are awaiting fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products, which give a weekly indication about the strength of demand in the world's biggest economy.

Statistics for the week ended March 14 are expected to show a rise of 2.6 million barrels in crude oil stocks and a decline of 1.6 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute reported a rise in crude stocks of 5.9 million barrels. The report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.

"The increase in crude oil stocks could turn out to be more pronounced than anticipated and thus weigh on prices, especially since the supportive effect of high heating oil demand due to the cold weather is likely to gradually fade away," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in a note to clients.

Also attracting the market's attention will the end of the U.S. Federal Reserve' two-day policy meeting later Wednesday, the first headed by new chief Janet Yellen. The Fed is expected to continue cutting its monetary stimulus. Oil prices have benefited from the Fed's bond purchases and low interest rates as commodities have attracted investors looking for bigger profits.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was down 76 cents to $106.03 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.3 cents to $2.8733 a gallon.

— Heating oil lost 2.28 cents to $2.8816 a gallon.

— Natural gas added 0.8 cent to $4.464 per 1,000 cubic feet.



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