The price of oil was little changed above $96 a barrel Wednesday as investors waited confirmation of a rise in U.S. crude stocks and the Federal Reserve's latest views on the U.S. economy.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for July delivery was down 3 cents to $96.15 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The June contract fell 55 cents to settle at $96.16 a barrel on Tuesday.
Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said traders were keeping tabs on the Federal Reserve, whose chairman was to appear before Congress later Wednesday. Traders will be scrutinizing Ben Bernanke's remarks for any hints of a change in monetary policy by the U.S. central bank.
Spooner also said that an increase in crude inventories of roughly 530,000 barrels reported by The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday put downward pressure on prices. Analysts were expecting a decline of 1.2 million barrels in crude, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill.
"Although we are into the driving season, it is still the case that inventory levels are high and production capacity is high, so I think there is a bit of risk to the downside," Spooner said.
A report by the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, which is the market benchmark, will be out later Wednesday.
Supply risks like the escalation of the conflict in Syria and the slow pace of return of South Sudan's oil output to the international markets — now blamed on a pipeline closure and earlier affected by a transit fee dispute with Sudan — "are currently preventing a more pronounced price slide," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, was down 23 cents to $103.68 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.68 cents to $2.8211 a gallon.
— Heating oil lost 1.57 cents to $2.9036 a gallon.
— Natural gas retreated 1.6 cents to $4.176 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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