Oil holds above US$48 after surprise drop in US crude stockpiles and Fed minutes

A Marathon petrol station on Jan 6, 2015 in Livonia, Michigan. US crude held above US$48 on Thursday after a surprise drop in inventories. -- PHOTO: AFP
A Marathon petrol station on Jan 6, 2015 in Livonia, Michigan. US crude held above US$48 on Thursday after a surprise drop in inventories. -- PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - US crude stayed above US$48 a barrel on Thursday, holding on to gains in the previous session following an unexpected drop in crude inventories and a positive economic outlook at the world's largest oil consumer the United States.

US crude for February delivery edged down 5 US cents to US$48.60 a barrel by 2351 GMT after snapping a 4-day losing streak to eke out a 1.5 per cent gain in the previous session.

Brent crude settled at US$51.15 a barrel on Wednesday, up 5 cents, after earlier falling below US$50 for the first time since May 2009.

US crude inventories fell 3.1 million barrels compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 880,000 barrels, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.

The data also showed that gasoline and distillate fuel stocks soared by the most ever last week, rising more than 19 million barrels as a global crude oil surplus begins to translate into swelling fuel inventories.

Tumbling world oil prices sparked a buying spree by China that led to record crude imports in December, according to Reuters estimates that suggest the top energy consumer doubled the oil put aside for strategic reserves in 2014 compared with 2013.

The White House does not feel pressure to loosen restrictions on U.S. oil exports further and views debate over the issue as resolved for now, Mr John Podesta, a top aide to President Barack Obama, told Reuters in an interview.

The US trade deficit fell to an 11-month low in November as declining crude oil prices curbed the import bill, prompting economists to sharply raise their estimates for fourth-quarter growth.

The euro held near a nine-year low early on Thursday, having been in the firing line again as investors wagered the European Central Bank would have to take bolder stimulus steps to combat growing deflationary pressures in the zone.