Oil Steadies Near $77 on Technical Support

Paring additional gains on the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil futures stood ground just under $77 a barrel on Wednesday as energy traders' risk aversion was put to bed by bullish government data indicating an unexpected fall in gasoline stocks.

Rallying alongside gasoline futures at the onset, the price of light, sweet crude oil for March delivery settled down slightly to $76.98 at the close of its session. Up nearly 2%, however, refined gasoline futures maintained a price tag above $2 as purchasing was spurred by a draw in the energy product's inventories for the previous week.

According to the Energy Information Administration, domestic crude stocks climbed an estimated 2.3 million barrels in the week to Jan. 29 -- substantially less than the API's anticipated build of 4.7 million barrels.

Conversely, gasoline stocks declined by 1.3 million barrels, against a bearish forecast for a 1.3 million-barrel increase. At 77.7% of capacity, refinery utilization is now at its lowest level since the 1990s as refiners continue to bottleneck output amid lackluster demand for oil products. 

In line with the API's predictions, distillate inventories were down by one million barrels. Additionally, the NYMEX delivery hub at Cushing, Oklahoma shed one million barrels, with inventories currently at 32 million barrels.

On the opposite side of the energy coin, March natural gas spot prices at the Henry Hub also closed on the downside, ultimately settling at $5.419 per thousand cubic feet.