London — 1145 GMT: Crude oil futures were trading in a narrow range in European morning trading Thursday, halting a corrective slide back from $70/b seen earlier in the week.
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At 1145 GMT, March ICE Brent crude futures were 3 cents lower at $69.35/b, while February NYMEX WTI crude was flat at $63.97/b.
Bullish API data was providing support to the futures, showing a larger reduction in US crude oil stocks than expected.
The API data released Wednesday evening showed a 5.12 million barrel drop in crude stocks over the week, for which analysts surveyed Tuesday by S&P Global Platts Tuesday had estimated a decline of 425,000 barrels.
Gasoline stocks rose, up by 1.78 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations for a more bearish build of 2.7 million barrels.
Eyes will now be on US Energy Information Administration data released later Thursday to confirm the bullish stock moves.
"For as long as crude oil stocks in the US continue to decrease so sharply, market participants are likely to feel confirmed in their view that the oil market is further tightening," said Commerzbank analysts in a note.
This stream of relatively bullish news will keep speculative investors from taking profits and selling the record high net long position built over recent weeks, according to the analysts, although an inventory build could trigger a sell-off.
OPEC's monthly report is also due for release Thursday, with early reports suggesting that it will show production over December averaging 32.42 million b/d, compared with November's 32.45 million b/d, according to a research note from ING.
Data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics, showing a year-on-year increase in crude throughput, but a decrease from November's record high, was also under scrutiny in the market.
China's refinery crude throughput rose 3.3% year on year to 49.11 million mt in December, down 0.6% from the record high of 49.43 million mt in November.
This was not as bullish as would first appear, with demand not keeping up with the rise in crude processing.
"China is processing more crude oil than it needs itself, as reflected in rising net exports of oil products," said the Commerzbank analysts.
The weak dollar, which has supported prices over the week, remained above three-year lows, but was down 0.30 on the day at 90.35.
February RBOB futures were up 0.58 cents at $1.8642/gal, while February ICE low sulfur gasoil futures were down 25 cents at $611.50/mt.