Oil pushes to six-week high above $77

NEW YORK (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. crude oil rose a third straight session on Wednesday, ending a choppy session at a six-week high amid mixed economic data and a government inventory report that showed crude oil stocks rose and gasoline stocks fell last week.

“Oil was technically strong yesterday on the move above $76.30 and the S&P 500’s move above it’s 200-day moving average,” said Richard Ilczyszyn, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago.

On Wednesday, U.S. crude for July delivery rose 73 cents, or 0.95 percent, to settle at $77.67 a barrel, highest close since settling at $79.97 on May 5.

Trading ranged from $76.06 to $78.13, highest intraday front-month price since $78.19 was struck on May 7.

In London, ICE Brent crude for August delivery rose $1.04 to settle at $78.14 a barrel.

“The ability of the energy complex to advance significantly today without much assistance from the euro or equities suggests an energy momentum play at work,” Jim Ritterbusch, president at Ritterbusch & Associates, said in a note.

Ahead of the Wednesday’s oil inventory data, there was a mixed bag of U.S. economic data. U.S. industrial production rose faster than expected in May, but U.S. housing starts fell more than expected during that month.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude oil inventories rose 1.7 million barrels last week. The expectation was that stockpiles would be down 1.2 million barrels.

A Tuesday report from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, also showed a surprise rise in U.S. crude stocks, up 579,000 barrels.

The EIA data showed gasoline stocks fell 700,000 barrels, against expectations for a small build, and distillate stocks rose 1.8 million barrels, more than expected.

Oil prices have rebounded from the 2010 low of $64.24 a barrel struck May 20. Gains in the previous two sessions were fueled by rallying equities and a stronger euro. The S&P 500 index moved above its 200-day moving average on Tuesday, helping push U.S. crude prices above their own key 200-day moving average.

Crude oil stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. futures rose by 200,000 barrels to 37.6 million barrels, EIA said, helping keep front-month crude prices at a deficit to the nearby month out.

The EIA said gasoline demand over the past four weeks was down 0.2 percent from a year ago, while distillate demand over the same period was up 13.6 percent from a year ago, helping to lift heating oil futures, which gained 2 percent on Wednesday.

U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) slipped on Wednesday as a warning from FedEx (FDX.N: ) that higher costs would hurt 2011 profits overshadowed a surge in industrial production. (.N: ) But European shares closed higher.

The euro slipped against the dollar on fresh concerns about Spain’s credit and banking system, but only after it hit a two-week high in early trading.

Iran’s dispute over its nuclear program also was cited as supporting oil prices. The U.S. Treasury announced new sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program.

Also supportive were concerns about drilling delays in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as producers shy away from deepwater drilling following BP Plc’s spill fouling the Gulf.

But some market watchers think the accident could accelerate the shift away from traditional energy sources such as oil in the long term.

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(Additional reporting by the New York Energy Desk, Alejandro Barbajosa in Singapore, and Emma Farge and Alex Lawler in London; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Oil pushes to six-week high above $77