By Pablo Gorondi
The price of oil crept closer to $100 a barrel Wednesday as investors waited for details on the levels of U.S. crude stockpiles.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was up 53 cents to $99.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Tuesday, the contract fell 41 cents to $99.19.
Brent crude, a contract for international varieties of oil, was up 25 cents to $107.24 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Prices might retreat if forecasts for a tenth consecutive increase in U.S. stockpiles of crude oil are confirmed in a report due later Wednesday.
Energy Information Administration data for the week ended March 21 are expected to show an increase of 2.6 million barrels in crude oil stocks and a decline of 1.8 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts.
The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said late Tuesday that crude stocks expanded by 6.3 million barrels last week.
“A much sharper increase such as that reported by the API would doubtless put pressure on (Nymex) prices,” said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in a note to clients.
U.S. and Brent crude have hovered in narrow ranges over the past week as supply and demand estimations have balanced each other out. Global supplies have tightened somewhat as Libyan crude exports have fallen, but the world may need less oil if economic growth in China and Russia slows.
A preliminary report Monday on China’s manufacturing activity in March showed continued weakness in a vital part of the world’s second largest economy. Russia, meanwhile, is suffering an exodus of investment capital following its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its economy is likely to stumble.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline gained 1.45 cents to $2.8962 a gallon.
— Heating oil added 0.79 cent to $2.9287 a gallon.
— Natural gas fell 2.9 cents to $4.382 per 1,000 cubic feet.