Oil prices edge up on gasoline supply concerns

Oil prices rose slightly in Asian trading Thursday on continued concerns about gasoline supply - despite a U.S. government report that showed stockpiles of the fuel increased last week.

Prices were also supported by signs OPEC is reluctant to pump more oil to meet an expected surge in demand during the Northern Hemisphere's summer driving season.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery added 13 cents to US$62.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midday in Singapore. The contract fell 62 cents Wednesday to settle at US$62.55 a barrel after crude oil, gasoline and distallate inventories were all reported to have increased last week.

Analysts are concerned that gasoline supplies, though rising, still won't meet demand. Unplanned outages and scheduled maintenance at refineries, sluggish imports and strong demand have plagued gasoline stocks since early February. At least a dozen additional partial shutdowns have occurred in the U.S. and internationally that cut refining capacity.

"Operating rates at U.S. refineries are still not high," said Koichi Murakami, an analyst with brokerage Daiichi Shohin in Tokyo.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that crude oil supplies rose by 1 million barrels last week to 342.2 million barrels. Gasoline stocks increased by 1.7 million barrels to 195.2 million barrels, but remained well below the average for this time of year.

Distillate inventories, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, edged up 1 million barrels to 119.8 million barrels.

In an effort to address supply concerns, the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was scheduled to hold informal talks with the International Energy Agency Thursday in Bali, Indonesia.

The IEA, which represents oil consuming nations, has previously urged OPEC to increase output soon and expressed concern over the ability of refiners and OPEC's willingness to meet an expected jump in oil product demand of 1.6 million barrels a day in June.

OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri said late Wednesday that "there is no reason, no reason whatsoever" for its members to inject more crude into the market and that critics of the group should not pressure it to do so.

El-Badri also told Dow Jones Newswires that OPEC's current output policy won't be amended ahead of its next meeting Sept. 11.

Heating oil futures rose 1.15 cents to US$1.8785 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices gained 2.3 cents to US$7.913 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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