Brent edges toward $109 on optimism Yellen to assure markets
* Dovish Yellen testimony would assure oil markets
* U.S. crude above $100 a barrel on cold weather, expectations of slower tapering
* U.S. distillate stocks seen falling last week
* Coming up: Fed Chair Yellen testimony to Congress at 1500 GMT
* API weekly U.S. inventory report at 2130 GMT
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
SINGAPORE, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Brent crude edged toward $109 a barrel on Tuesday on cautious optimism that the Federal Reserve's new head will signal the central bank's commodity-friendly monetary policy is to remain for now.
With all eyes on Janet Yellen in her first testimony to Congress, many investors expect her to indicate slower stimulus tapering following recent mixed data in the world's biggest economy.
"If Yellen, as expected, gives a dovish testimony, it will give some assurance to oil markets," said Chee Tat Tan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore. "The greenback would be likely to weaken further, which would help lift demand for crude oil."
Brent crude for March delivery was up 8 cents at $108.71 per barrel at 0321 GMT, after settling 94 cents lower. The contract, which expires on Thursday, traded as high as $109.75 on Monday, its highest since Jan. 2.
U.S. crude traded 6 cent higher at $100.12 a barrel. The contract closed above the $100-mark on Monday for the first time this year.
The Fed has begun cutting its bond purchases by $10 billion a month as the U.S. economy showed signs of strength. The move marks perhaps its most difficult policy shift after five years of easy money that has provided support for risky assets such as commodities.
The dollar wallowed near a two-week low against a basket of major currencies early on Tuesday.
U.S. oil hovered around a six-week high, supported by an expected drop in distillate inventories last week, in part due to continuing freezing weather across the country.
A survey of five analysts, taken ahead of weekly inventory reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), forecast distillate stocks, including heating oil and diesel fuel, fell 2.3 million barrels in the week to Feb. 7.
However, the possibility of milder weather next week curbed demand for heating oil in recent days and raised the prospect of an end to a long winter, even as another snowstorm is expected in the U.S. Northeast this week.
"Prices can hold up for now, but when temperatures return to normal, oil may lose support and U.S. crude will again trade on its fundamentals," said Tan.
U.S. crude oil inventories were expected to have risen by 3 million barrels last week to more than 361 million barrels, the preliminary poll of analysts showed.
The API will release its data at 2130 GMT, while the EIA will publish its data on Wednesday at 1530 GMT.
Crude inventories could continue to rise as U.S. oil production from shale plays is expected to accelerate in February and March, the EIA said.
Shale oil production will rise by 63,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February and another 64,000 bpd in March, according to forecasts from the EIA issued on Monday.
That compares to a 53,000 bpd increase in January and a 49,000 bpd rise in December, months that typically experience slower activity due to winter weather conditions. (Reporting By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Ed Davies)