The price of oil edged above $102 a barrel Wednesday as investors tried to assess the strength of U.S. demand with the approach of warmer weather.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 62 cents to $102.45 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Tuesday, the contract fell 99 cents to close at $101.83.
Investors are waiting for a weekly fuel inventories report due later Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Department for clues about the strength of demand. The industry-sponsored American Petroleum Agency said late Tuesday that crude supplies rose 822,000 barrels last week, though stocks at Cushing, Okla., the settlement point for the Nymex contract, fell 1.1 million barrels.
"Market participants will be paying close attention to the flows through Cushing and for any increases in refinery rates which remained subdued in last week's report," said analyst Kash Kamal at Sucden Financial Research in London.
An especially harsh U.S. winter this year has boosted energy demand but that impulse will fade as warmer weather starts to prevail.
The world has already grown jittery lately about a possible economic slowdown in China. The economy is still expanding at faster rates than Western nations but may be losing momentum, which would have significant effect on energy demand.
However, production and exports snags in Libya and Iraq as well as sometime-violent street protests in Venezuela, which is a major supplier of crude to the U.S., have helped keep prices supported.
Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was down 19 cents to $109.32 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline was almost unchanged at $2.9714 per gallon.
— Heating was also little changed at $3.0352 a gallon.
— Natural gas dropped 26.6 cents to $4.83 per 1,000 cubic feet.