Investing.com - U.S. oil futures fluctuated near the previous session’s three-week high on Thursday, as investors looked ahead to key U.S. weekly supply data due later in the day to gauge the strength of oil demand from the world’s largest consumer.
Thursday’s government report was expected to show that crude oil stockpiles rose by 0.6 million barrels last week, while gasoline inventories were forecast to increase by 2.1 million barrels.
After markets closed Wednesday, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said that U.S. crude inventories rose by 4.86 million barrels in the week ended January 17. The data also showed that gasoline stockpiles increased by 1.1 million barrels.
The data came out one day later than usual due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday earlier in the week.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in March traded at USD96.76 a barrel during European morning trade, up 0.05%.
New York-traded oil futures held in a tight range between USD96.42 a barrel and USD96.77 a barrel.
WTI oil prices rallied to USD96.89 a barrel on Wednesday, the highest since January 2, before trimming gains to settle at USD96.73, up 1.85%.
Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at USD95.12 a barrel, the low from January 22 and resistance at USD97.16 a barrel, the high from December 3.
Investors also looked ahead to key U.S. economic data later in the day for further indications on the future course of U.S. monetary policy. The U.S. is to release the weekly report on initial jobless claims later in the day as well as a private sector report on existing home sales.
Data released earlier showed that China’s HSBC Flash Purchasing Managers Index, the earliest indicator of the country''s industrial activity, fell to a six-month low of 49.6 in January from a final reading of 50.5 in December.
The Asian nation is the world''s second largest oil consumer after the U.S. and has been the engine of strengthening demand.
Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for March delivery shed 0.25% to trade at USD107.99 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at USD11.23 a barrel.
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