Crude Holds Above $77 as Oil Market Awaits EIA Report

Relatively light trading volumes and positive economic data outweighed a stronger greenback and the expectation of higher petroleum supplies, as NYMEX crude held on to yesterday's gains to close back above $77 a barrel.

Settling at the higher end of its current trading range between $70-$80, the price of light, sweet crude oil for March delivery posted a 32-cent gain to $77.33 a barrel on Wednesday, ahead of tomorrow's inventory report. Adding some volatility to the energy commodity's trading on the NYMEX, the March front-month contract for crude oil is set to expire soon.

Reports of a stronger rebound in U.S. housing starts and a larger-than-expected percentage gain in U.S. industrial output for the month of January helped to prop up the equities and commodities markets Wednesday.

Both the American Petroleum Institute and Energy Information Administration's inventory reports were delayed due to Monday's federal holiday. The API report is due by 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT) today, while the EIA's weekly inventory report will be released on Thursday.

A Reuters survey issued yesterday, however, indicates that analysts are anticipating an increase in both crude oil and gasoline stocks and a draw in distillate stocks for the week to Feb. 12.

Rallying alongside crude oil, the price per gallon of NYMEX gasoline ultimately surpassed a $2-threshold at the close of its session.

On the domestic front, natural gas spot prices at the Henry Hub for March delivery also closed in positive territory, inching up to $5.39 per thousand cubic feet.