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Oil prices nearly flat after rise in U.S. fuel stocks

Oil prices were little changed Thursday following a U.S. inventories report that showed that stocks of gasoline, crude and distillate fuels all rose last week.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery added 3 cents to US$61.58 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, midmorning in Singapore. The contract fell 71 cents to settle at US$61.55 a barrel on Wednesday.

The U.S. Energy Department's weekly supply snapshot released Wednesday showed the first rebound for gasoline stocks in three months. Crude inventories built much more than analysts had expected amid growing imports, the report said.

Gasoline stocks rose an average of 400,000 barrels last week to 193.5 million barrels, marking the first increase in 13 consecutive weeks, the report showed. Inventories remain well below levels a year ago, however, raising concerns of inadequate supply ahead of the peak demand of the summer driving season.

Unplanned outages and scheduled maintenance at refineries, sluggish imports and strong demand have plagued gasoline stocks since early February. At least a dozen additional partial shutdowns have occurred in the U.S. and internationally that cut refining capacity.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 5.6 million barrels to 341.2 million barrels - well above expectations of an 850,000-barrel build in a Dow Jones Newswires survey of analysts. The increase places the stockpiles at the upper end of the average range for this time of year.

Stocks of distillate fuel, which includes diesel and heating oil, rose by 1.7 million barrels to 118.8 million barrels.

Oil prices remained supported by escalating violence in Nigeria, Africa's largest producer and a leading supplier to the United States.

On Wednesday, gunmen seized four American workers in Nigeria's southern oil region. The kidnappings came just hours after militants staged coordinated attacks on three pipelines in the wetlands region, knocking out nearly 100,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

Heating oil futures gained 0.92 cent to US$1.825 per gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices dropped a cent to US$7.71 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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