Oil prices mixed in 77-79 dollar range
World oil prices diverged on Thursday as investors booked profits following recent gains, analysts said.
New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, shed 44 cents to 77.23 dollars a barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for August delivery climbed 38 cents to 78.52 dollars a barrel in early afternoon London trade.
"Oil pricing has been rallying for the past couple of days in line with the rally in equities and after these gains, investors are inclined to book some profits," said Victor Shum, an analyst for Purvin and Gertz energy consultancy.
Oil prices had risen for a third day running on Wednesday, lifted by a surprise drop in US gasoline inventories that stoked demand hopes for the world's biggest energy-consuming nation.
The US Department of Energy reported an unexpected rise in crude reserves, up 1.7 million barrels to 363.1 million barrels in the week ending June 11.
The increase surprised most analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires, whose average forecast was for a decline of 1.3 million barrels.
But the bearish build-up of crude was offset by a surprise decline in gasoline reserves, by 600,000 barrels to 218.3 million barrels, confounding expectations of a flat reading.
The market closely watches the levels of US gasoline reserves during the peak months of the country's summer holiday driving season to gauge demand.
"The thing that has been really supportive has been the product inventories," which include gasoline, said Jason Schenker of Prestige Economics.
"We are in driving season right now, that is why there has been that move higher on that draw," he said.
"Plus there is a big drop in refinery utilization, so there might be concerns about future product supply."
The US refinery utilization rate fell to 87.9 percent of capacity from 89.1 percent the previous week.
© 2010 AFP