Oil up, shrugs off big U.S. crude build and erases early dip

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices edged higher in volatile trading on Wednesday, as a big build in U.S. crude stockpiles did not stop a two-week rally, with buyers banking on production limit plans by OPEC and Russia.

A worker checks the valve of an oil pipe at the Lukoil company owned Imilorskoye oil field outside the West Siberian city of Kogalym, Russia, January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The U.S. government said crude inventories rose by 10.4 million barrels to a record high 518 million during the week to Feb. 26. That build reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) was almost triple the 3.6 million-barrel increase expected by analysts in a Reuters poll. [EIA/S]

Oil prices dipped on the data but recovered later to trade modestly higher from Tuesday’s settlement.

Futures of Brent LCOc1, the global crude benchmark, were up 19 cents at $37 a barrel by 12:42 p.m. EST (1741 GMT). Brent had fallen 71 cents to a session low of $36.10 earlier.

U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 were up 25 cents at $34.65, after sliding to an intraday low of $33.55.

Some analysts think the market will not sink back to 12-year lows hit in mid-February, when U.S. crude fell to around $26, and Brent traded at just above $27.

“We believe prices will see modest gains over the course of the year and we have likely seen the worst of price declines, unless the global economy actually moves into recession,” said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, who helps manage some $125 billion.

Anthony Headrick, energy market analyst at CHS Hedging, concurred with that.

“It seems more likely that $26 is in the rear view mirror at the moment,” Headrick said. “Fundamentals remain bearish but prospects of OPEC freeze and downward cycle in U.S. output will likely limit a retest of the recent lows.”

Oil began to sell off in mid-2014 when a global supply glut from excessive U.S. shale crude production began to pressure prices at above $100 a barrel. The slide steepened after OPEC members led by Saudi Arabia, which traditionally cuts output to support prices, started pumping oil at record highs to protect market share.

In recent weeks, however, OPEC and outside producers stepped up diplomatic activity to address the supply glut. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela and non-OPEC producer Russia said on Feb. 16 they would freeze output at January’s highs. WTI futures have risen 17 percent since, while Brent has gained 14 percent.

But some traders think the selloff will return as U.S. crude inventories continue to build from the refinery maintenance season.

“We could be in store for another large move down over the next few weeks,” said Tariq Zahir at Tyche Capital Advisors who bets nearby WTI contract will weaken against forwards.

Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London; Editing by Dale Hudson, Susan Fenton and David Gregorio