Updated March 23 at 6:25am

Oil rises in New York as U.S. inventories unexpectedly decrease


NEW YORK - Oil rose in New York on an unexpected drop in U.S. inventories as imports declined for the fourth time in five weeks and petroleum consumption increased.

Prices gained as much as 1.2 percent after the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm, said stockpiles fell 951,000 barrels last week. They were expected to climb 2.2 million barrels, according to the median of 11 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Consumption rebounded from the lowest level since March.

“The drawdown in crude oil caught the market by surprise,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Supplies are becoming tighter than expected.”

West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery climbed 66 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $93.94 a barrel at 1:20 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices have risen 2.3 percent since the beginning of the year. Volume was 28 percent above the 100-day average.

Brent for February settlement, which expires today, gained 11 cents to $110.41 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The more-active March contract decreased 21 cents to $109.42. Volume was 0.5 percent below the 100-day average.

The front-month European benchmark contract was at a premium of $16.47 to WTI and poised to settle at the narrowest spread since Sept. 19.

Crude stockpiles

Oil inventories decreased to 360.3 million in the seven days ended Jan. 11 as imports fell 3.7 percent to 8.03 million barrels a day, the EIA said in the weekly report. Imports jumped 18 percent the previous week, following a 12 percent drop in the week ended Dec. 28.

Companies in Gulf Coast states delay imports and minimize supplies at the end of the year to reduce local taxes. Those imports were brought ashore in the first week of the new year, Flynn said.

“Oil imports are the most volatile series” in the EIA report, said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. The drop in imports “resulted in a net decline in crude oil inventories.”

Total petroleum consumption rebounded from the lowest level since March, climbing 1.1 percent to 18 million barrels a day last week, the report showed. Gasoline demand jumped 3.9 percent to 8.32 million barrels a day.

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