Crude oil futures prices inched up to settle at a one-week high Tuesday, awaiting direction from upcoming U.S. oil inventory data.
Light, sweet crude oil futures for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled up 24 cents, at $92.09 a barrel, after swinging in a $1.02-a-barrel high-low range. On the IntercontinentalExchange, Brent crude oil for November expired 73 cents lower, at $115.07 a barrel.
On balance, Nymex prices are up just 2 cents from Thursday, reflecting near-term uncertainty about the broad economy and oil demand in general, traders said.
"We're stuck here for the moment between $88 and $93 a barrel," said Gene McGillian, a broker and analyst at Tradition Energy. "We've basically stabilized after weathering a $10 slide, but there doesn't seem to be clear-cut direction now." Since topping $100 a barrel a month ago for the first time since May, crude dropped two weeks ago to under $88 a barrel, the weakest level since mid-December.
Traders said the market may get near-term guidance from weekly U.S. oil inventory data, which has been showing a rising surplus in crude oil stocks and tight inventories of gasoline and diesel/heating oil.
Last week, data from the Energy Information Administration showed distillate stocks stood at a 12-year low, while gasoline stocks were the lowest in four years. Crude oil stocks, meanwhile, remained lofty, holding their biggest year-on-year surplus in two years.
Analysts expected EIA's report due at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to show crude oil stocks in the week ended Friday rose 1.3 million barrels, while gasoline stocks gained 300,000 barrels. Distillate stocks (diesel/heating oil) are expected to show a one million-barrel drop. The figures also are expected to show refiners boosted operations relative to capacity by 0.2 percentage point in the week.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, is scheduled to release its weekly inventory report at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Nymex heating oil futures for November settled 1.06 cents lower at $3.1985 a gallon, the lowest price since Oct. 8. Prices have dropped 5.86 cents over the past three sessions and have been down for eight of the past 12 days.
November reformulated gasoline blendstock settled 0.5 cent lower, at $3.8453 a gallon, the weakest price since Oct. 3. RBOB has dropped 11.4 cents over the past four sessions.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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