Oil futures were lower Wednesday after US Energy Information Administration data showed a surprise build in US crude stocks last week driven by higher imports and lower exports.
So far, OPEC has said it sees no need to ease output restrictions despite a fall in global stocks to the group's desired levels and concerns among consuming nations that the price rally could undermine demand. The API data, however, showed an unexpected rise of 980,000 barrels in gasoline stockpiles.
Inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, site fell by 822,000 barrels.
Analysis emailed from commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts, meanwhile, revealed expectations of a 1.7 million barrel drain on commercial crude oil inventories in the United States, showing the market is now moving toward a deficit.
Refinery runs fell 7,000 bpd to 16.63 million bpd, 3.8 percent below the same week a year ago, according to the EIA data.
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Domestic production edged up to 10.725 million barrels per day from 10.723 million bpd in the prior week, EIA said. Iran is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the decision means as much as 1 million barrels of oil per day could disappear from the global market.
US crude futures fell 36 cents, or 0.5%, to $71.84 a barrel, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell $1.01 to settle at $78.79 a barrel, a 1.27 percent loss. The 52-week range on July futures is $45.18 to $72.90.
The benchmarks are diverging as rising inventories in the USA weigh on American futures while risks to supply from Iran to Venezuela buoy Brent. Venezuela is one of the major contributors to the higher-than-expected cuts due to its involuntary production decline.
Refinery utilization rose 0.7 percentage point last week to 91.8% of capacity, limiting the size of last week's build. Gasoline stockpiles also rose according to the EIA, hinting that U.S. drivers are resisting USD3/gal at the pump.
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Crude finds support at $70.52 a barrel after losing more than $2 in the last two days. Distillate product supplied averaged about 4.2 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 1.9% compared with the same period a year ago.
Oil is trading above its 100 and 200-period simple moving averages (SMA) on the 4-hour time-frame while it is trading below the 50-period SMA.
"That's up 50 per cent from just eight months ago".
The United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA: USO) traded down about 0.9% to $14.43, in a 52-week range of $8.65 to $14.74.
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