- U.S. oil futures inched higher on Thursday, as investors eyed upcoming policy statements by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, as well as key U.S. economic data due later in the trading session.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in March traded in a range between USD97.24 a barrel and USD97.68 a barrel.

The March Nymex oil contract last traded at USD97.62 a barrel during European morning hours, up 0.25%.

WTI oil prices rose to USD98.26 a barrel on Wednesday, the highest since January 31, before trimming gains to settle at USD97.38 a barrel, up 0.2%.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at USD96.37 a barrel, the low from February 4 and resistance at USD98.37 a barrel, the high from January 31.

Wednesday’s gains came after U.S. weekly supply data showed that crude oil inventories rose by 440,000 barrels last week, compared to expectations for an increase of 2.3 million barrels.

The report also showed that total motor gasoline inventories increased by 505,000 barrels, below forecasts for a gain of 1.5 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles declined by 2.4 million barrels.

Market players now looked ahead to key U.S. economic data later in the day for further indications on the strength of the economy and the future course of monetary policy.

The U.S. is to publish the weekly report on initial jobless claims as well as data on the trade balance.

Payroll processing firm ADP said Wednesday that non-farm private employment rose by a seasonally adjusted 175,000 last month, below expectations for an increase of 180,000.

While not viewed as a reliable guide for the government jobs report due on Friday, February 7, it does give guidance on private-sector hiring.

The Federal Reserve said it will keep a close eye on economic indicators before deciding to wind down its stimulus program even further.

The central bank tapered its monthly asset purchase program by another USD10 billion to USD65 billion a month at its last policy meeting.

Market players were also awaiting the ECB meeting amid speculation that the bank may tighten monetary policy in order to stave off deflation and shore up the fragile recovery in the region.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for March delivery inched up 0.1% to trade at USD106.35 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at USD8.73 a barrel.

The spread between the two contracts narrowed to a four-month low as the Keystone XL pipeline linking Cushing, Oklahoma, to the U.S. Gulf Coast began making deliveries last month. Flows will rise over the course of the year toward its 700,000-barrel capacity, which should help alleviate a glut of crude in the Midwest.

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