Brent was little changed on Wednesday following strong gains in Asian stocks, while U.S. oil eased on industry data that showed a huge build in U.S. crude stockpiles that were already at a record high.
Oil prices have pushed higher over the last fortnight after hitting 12-year lows under $30 a barrel between late January and mid-February, fueled by speculation the market may have bottomed out.
Brent crude for May delivery was down 7 cents at $36.74 a barrel at 0755 GMT. It was close to Tuesday’s near-two-month high of $37.25, which was up 37.5 percent from a 12-year low hit in late January.
NYMEX crude for April delivery was down 35 cents at $34.05 a barrel, after marking a one-month high on Tuesday.
U.S. crude inventories jumped by 9.9 million barrels last week, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed after Tuesday’s settlement. That was well above a 3.6-million barrel increase expected by analysts in a Reuters poll.
The surprise jump initially pushed U.S. crude down as much as 60 cents on worries that official data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) due later Wednesday would show a large build similar to the industry numbers.
“Strong gains in inventories in API data had some impact on prices,” said Tetsu Emori, president of Emori Capital Management in Tokyo. “But with U.S. inventories staying at historical levels, the downside pressure on prices has been waning as that has been taken into account.”
Another factor helping the market was increasing talk among the participants including an analyst at the International Energy Agency that oil prices may have bottomed out with Saudi Arabia and some other producers including Russia planning an oil output freeze at January highs.
Russian oil output stood at 10.88 million barrels per day in February, little changed from January, Energy Ministry data showed on Wednesday.
“Sentiment has clearly shifted for commodities in the last fortnight,” ANZ bank said on Wednesday. “The price action in oil adds to the case that the bottom in the crude oil market is now in place.”
But banks from Goldman Sachs to Morgan Stanley and Barclays have suggested that without an outright cut in output, a production freeze would not boost prices much.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger)