LONDON Oil eased further from a 10-month high above $72 on Wednesday on news a general strike in Nigeria had so far failed to interrupt crude shipments from Africa's top producer.
Investors said U.S. oil stocks data, to be released at 1430 GMT, would determine the market's immediate direction. Analysts are forecasting an increase in gasoline inventories to meet peak summer demand in the world's top consumer.
London Brent crude LCOc1, currently a better indicator of the global market than U.S. oil, was down 29 cents at $71.55 a barrel by 0849 GMT. It pulled back from $72.25 the previous session, the highest since August 28, 2006.
U.S. crude CLc1 fell by 30 cents to $68.80.
A general strike in Nigeria began on Wednesday after unions rejected government concessions on fuel prices as too little too late. The offices of Western oil companies operating in Nigeria were closed along with most other businesses, but oil output and exports were uninterrupted, company officials said.
"We believe that even if the strike goes on, oil supply disruptions are likely to prove minimal -- this was historically the case," said Barclays Capital.
The bank added that the strike in the world's eighth biggest oil exporter highlighted market vulnerability to supply disruptions.
Expectations of higher U.S. fuel stocks also weighed on prices, with analysts seeing a 1-million-barrel rise in gasoline inventories and an 800,000-barrel increase in distillate fuels, a Reuters poll found. <EIA/S>
Crude stocks, already near seasonal highs, were forecast to build by 100,000 barrels. But the focus will be on whether struggling U.S. refiners are able to lift supplies of gasoline during the peak summer demand season while also reviving low heating fuel stocks.
"Continuing refinery woes were expected to keep U.S. product inventory builds once again at a minimum for the week," said Antoine Halff at Fimat, after last week's data showed gasoline stocks had unexpectedly failed to build.
(Reporting by Neil Chatterjee in Singapore)