U.S. Crude Ends Higher Ahead Of Weekly Oil Data

NEW YORK -- U.S. crude-oil futures rose Tuesday as investors positioned ahead of weekly inventory data that are expected to show increasing oil stockpiles.

Light, sweet crude oil for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 44 cents, or 0.4%, higher at $103.55 a barrel after trading as high as $104.10 earlier in the session. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange fell 55 cents to $118.16 a barrel.

Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expect U.S. crude-oil inventories rose by 1.9 million barrels in the week ended April 20, while refiners boost operations by 0.5 percentage point. If correct, U.S. stockpiles would rise above 370 million barrels for the first time since last May.

With traders' attention shifting from tensions with Iran back to issues of oil supply and demand, rising U.S. stockpiles may offer a signal that plenty of oil is available to meet slumping fuel usage.

The data, issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is due 10:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The American Petroleum Institute trade group issues its own survey at 4:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

Oil prices have held in a tight range just above $100 for several weeks, and many investors have turned their attention to the narrowing price difference between U.S.-traded West Texas Intermediate oil and its European counterpart, Brent crude. On Tuesday, the premium for Brent over WTI dropped below $15 after trading above $20 at the beginning of April.

"We've been in a range for a few days, and it's been all the Brent-WTI spread," driving prices, said Tariq Zahir of Tyche Capital Management.

The Seaway pipeline, which connects the oil hub of Cushing, Okla., to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is expected to start bringing crude to the gulf coast on May 17. Owners of the pipeline expect 100,000 barrels a day will start flowing to refineries in the region, helping to relieve the glut in the middle of the U.S. that has depressed the price of WTI. More than 400,000 barrels a day of transportation capacity will be available early next year.

Reformulated gasoline blendstock futures for May delivery settled 2.8 cents lower at $3.1593 a gallon, while May heating oil futures settled 1.03 cents lower at $3.1295 a gallon.