Investing.com - Crude oil prices gained in early Asian trade on Thursday, shrugging off bearish data overnight that revealed U.S. stockpiles shot up last week that sent the near-term contract to a one-month low, with the focus now on data from China on industrial output and retail sales.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April traded at $98.14 a barrel, up 0.15%, after hitting an overnight session low of $97.57 a barrel and a high of $99.63 a barrel.
Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange settled down 0.5%, at $108.02 a barrel on Wednesday.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report Wednesday that U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 6.2 million barrels in the week ended March 7, well above market expectations for a 2.2-million barrel increase.
Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 370 million barrels as of last week.
The report also showed that total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 5.2 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a drop of 2 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles decreased by 533,000 barrels, below expectations for a withdrawal of 867,000 barrels.
Oil prices came under additional pressure on reports that the U.S. plans to release up to 5 million barrels of oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserves, according to a government source.
The release will serve as a test sale to check the operational capacity of system infrastructure. The timing of such a release remains unclear.
Meanwhile, investors remained cautious as growing concerns over the health of China’s economy dampened demand for growth-linked assets, oil especially.
Data released over the weekend showed that Chinese exports fell 18.1% on-year in February, defying expectations for a 6.8% increase, following a rise of 10.6% in January.
A separate report showed that the annual rate of inflation in China slowed to 2.0% in February, from 2.5% in January.
The Asian nation is the world''s second largest oil consumer after the U.S. and has been the engine of strengthening demand.
Later Thursday, China releases February industrial output (seen up 9.5% year-on year), retail sales (a 13.5% year-on-year gain expected) and investment data (seen up 19.4% year-on-year) at 1330 in Beijing (0530 GMT).
Beijing uses the first two months of the year together in order to smooth out distortions created by the Chinese New Year holiday.