Oil advance before US energy report

LONDON: World oil prices crept higher on Wednesday as traders braced for the traditional weekly energy inventories report in the United States, a key consuming nation.

New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, was up 71 cents at 77.94 dollars a barrel at about 0930 GMT.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March gained 80 cents to 76.86 dollars.

Later Wednesday, the US government's Department of Energy (DoE) will publish its snapshot of crude stockpiles for the week ending January 29.

"All eyes are back on US fuel inventories today and we expect a small draw in distillates," said VTB Capital commodities analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov.

"We also expect higher gasoline stocks with demand for petrol still struggling. Crude inventories could rise on rebounding imports," he added.

Crude oil soared Tuesday, extending Monday's strong gains as the market appeared more optimistic about global economic growth and energy demand.

Investor sentiment was buoyed this week as equities markets put in strong performances and manufacturing data from the United States hinted at a global economic recovery.

The market was also propelled higher by news of fresh unrest in Nigeria's key oil-producing region.

In earlier Asian deals on Wednesday, oil prices pulled back after US industry body the American Petroleum Institute (API) had said Tuesday that there had been a build-up in US crude stockpiles -- indicating weak demand.

"I think it's because of the API numbers," said Clarence Chu, an oil trader with Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore, explaining why the market had fallen in earlier trade.

"They showed a build-up of 4.7 million barrels of crude which was unexpected."

Analysts had expected US inventories to rise by a median of only 400,000-500,000 barrels, Chu added.

The API report serves as the precursor to DoE's weekly inventories report, which provides a snapshot of global energy demand in the world's largest energy consuming nation.