Oil prices in mid-USD 69-a-barrel range after moderate rise in previous session

Oil prices held steady below US$70 a barrel Friday in Asia after jumping above that mark in the previous session the first time in ten months.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose six cents to US$69.63 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midmorning in Singapore.

The contract settled 60 cents higher at US$69.57 a barrel Thursday in the U.S. after rising as high as US$70.52 and trading above US$70 for several hours.

Thursday's jump was driven by concerns over summer supplies following the release of a weekly U.S. government report that showed gasoline inventories dropped unexpectedly as the driving season neared its peak. Oil prices pulled back late in Thursday's session as traders locked in profits after prices penetrated the psychologically important US$70 level, analysts said .

The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Wednesday gasoline inventories dropped 700,000 barrels in the week ended June 22. Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a 1.1 million barrel gain.

The EIA report also showed that crude oil supplies rose 1.6 million barrels to 350.9 million barrels last week, above the average estimate of a 1 million barrel increase. Refinery utilization rebounded 1.8 percentage points to 89.4 percent, higher than estimates of a gain of 0.8 percentage points.

The weekly petroleum supply snapshot has been watched closely during a spring and early summer during which an unusually high number of refinery outages have led to high gasoline futures prices and record prices at the pump.

Natural gas prices rose 2.1 cents to US$6.676 per 1,000 cubic feet. The contract plummeted 42.8 cents to settle at US$6.655 per 1,000 cubic feet Thursday after a government report showed natural gas inventories rose by 99 billion cubic feet last week, more than analysts expected.

Heating oil futures were flat at US$2.0183 a gallon.

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