Oil prices trade mixed on eve of US energy report

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World oil prices firmed in London but fell slightly in New York on Wednesday, the eve of key energy inventories data in the United States, traders said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March rose 40 cents to $98.20 a barrel in late afternoon London trade.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for February delivery, dipped 39 cents to $90.99.

"Prices remain well supported as the upside surprise in demand continues to emerge," said Barclays Capital analyst Amrita Sen.

Optimism about the global economic recovery and interest from bullish investors have pushed crude prices close to $100 a barrel in recent sessions, reaching levels that were last seen in October 2008.

Harsh winter weather in Europe and parts of North America, and demand growth in China and other developing nations, have also boosted prices.

The US government's Department of Energy will publish its weekly inventories report on Thursday, one day later than normal because of a public holiday in the United States on Monday.

Crude oil reserves are forecast to have fallen by 1.4 million barrels last week, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

However, the sharp decline is partly because of the shutdown of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that was restarted Monday.

American gasoline or petrol stocks are predicted to gain 2.2 million barrels, while distillates -- which include diesel and heating fuel -- are seen rising by 500,000 barrels.

© 2011 AFP

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