Oil prices edge up in Asia after overnight drop on U.S. fuel inventories

Oil prices edged up in Asian trading Thursday after dropping more than 1.8 percent in the previous session on data that showed a less-than-expected drop in U.S. inventories for distillate fuel, which includes heating oil and diesel oil.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery inched up 2 cents to US$58.02 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange midmorning in Singapore.

The contract on Wednesday fell US$1.06 to settle at US$58.00 a barrel after the U.S. Department of Energy reported that distillate fuel stocks fell by 3 million barrels last week. Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected supplies to fall by 4.3 million barrels.

"The market overreacted to the report," said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore, referring to the overnight drop. He added that the market interpreted the inventories report as bearish even though the data was mixed.

Shum said that while the drawdown in distillate stocks was less than expected, there were still "some bullish spots n crude and gasoline inventories."

The Energy Department said crude oil inventories fell last week by 600,000 barrels to 323.9 million barrels, against analysts' expectations of a gain of 1.1 million barrels. Gasoline stockpiles also unexpectedly fell, dropping 2 million barrels.

Most of last week's decline in distillate stocks came from the drop in heating oil inventories rather than diesel fuel, as a cold snap in the Northeast boosted heating demand, reports AP.

Also expected to weigh on prices were forecasts by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of above-normal temperatures in the U.S. Northeast from Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, ending weeks of freezing temperatures in the region where 80 percent of the nation's heating oil demand comes from.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures lost 0.18 cents to US$1.6365 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices gained 2.9 cents to US$7.270 per 1,000 cubic feet.