Crude oil price falls below US$74 before key OPEC meeting as US inventories rise

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. crude futures extended declines to below US$74 a barrel on Wednesday after industry data showed that U.S. crude inventories rose by nearly 3 million barrels last week, about six times more than analysts had expected.

NYMEX crude for January delivery was down 33 cents at US$73.76 a barrel by 0010 GMT. It settled down US$1.69 at US$74.09 on Tuesday after a meeting of Saudi Arabia and three other nations ahead of an OPEC summit ended with no deal to curb crude output.

London Brent crude for January delivery was yet to trade. It settled down US$1.35 at US$78.33 on Tuesday.

U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.8 million barrels last week to 379.5 million barrels, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed after Tuesday's settlement. That compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 470,000 barrels.

Gasoline stocks rose by a smaller-than-expected 43,000 barrels. Distillate fuels stockpiles fell by a larger-than-expected 1.3 million barrels. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) will publish its weekly oil data at 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) later in the day.

Oil market watchers are divided on the outcome of OPEC's Thursday meeting. Predictions range from a large production cut to revive prices, to a small reduction, or none at all.

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