Oil futures: Crude prices flat ahead of U.S. inventory data

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Oil futures were flat Wednesday as traders awaited cues from weekly data on U.S. crude and fuel inventories due later in the day.

Concerns about Greece's sovereign debt crisis persisted, meanwhile, despite a crucial vote of confidence won late Tuesday by the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose 2 cents to $94.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Front-month prices got a 77-cent boost overnight with the expiration of the cheaper July contract. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange rose 91 cents to $111.86 a barrel.

Market participants will be looking for signals on U.S. oil demand when the Department of Energy releases its weekly survey of oil and fuel products stockpiles Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Concerns that the sputtering recovery is hindering demand have send Nymex crude sliding from $100 a barrel this month.

"It looks as if worries about the economy and the situation in Greece continues to depress oil prices," said Gene McGillian, broker and analyst at Tradition Energy.

Analysts expect U.S. inventory data for the week ended June 17 to show crude stockpiles fell by a modest 800,000 barrels from a week prior, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires. Crude inventories are already at a 21-year high for this time of year.

Gasoline stockpiles are seen rising by 800,000 barrels, while inventories of distillates, including heating oil and diesel, are seen rising 500,000 barrels. Refinery runs are expected to increase by a slim 0.3 percentage point from a week ago.

Traders received a hint of what was to come Wednesday from the American Petroleum Institute. The industry group said late Tuesday crude stocks fell just 81,000 barrels last week, while refiners lifted operations by 2 percentage points to 86.5% of capacity. Gasoline stocks fell 1.5 million barrels while distillate stocks declined 541,000 barrels.

Market participants will receive additional clues on the U.S. recovery when the Federal Reserve releases its monetary policy statement at 12:30 p.m. EDT. That will be followed by a press conference by Chairman Ben Bernanke.

In Europe, economic jitters persisted despite the survival of Greece's current government. The debt-wracked country now faces a vote on additional austerity measures later this month as a condition for further rounds of aid from the European Union. The dollar remained stronger against the euro, which typically weighs on oil prices.

"Although the Greek debt situation has been pushed to the backburner for now, it will remain as a latent bearish consideration," said Jim Ritterbusch, head of the oil trading advisory firm Ritterbusch and Associates.

Front-month July reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, recently gained 2.97 cents, or 1%, to $2.9123 a gallon. July heating oil added 0.65 cents, or 0.2%, to $2.8965 a gallon.



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