Oil Prices Holding To Five-Week High At $96

Benchmark U.S. crude-oil futures held steady Thursday, sticking with the $96 level after a smaller-than-expected increase in U.S. crude supplies helped earlier to push prices to their highest level in more than month.

Crude oil for June delivery  was up 1 cent at $96.63 a barrel in electronic trade during Asian trading hours. Prices had briefly risen about 16 cents as China reported consumer prices rose more than expected in April, but the gain was later pared.

Oil on Wednesday jumped $1, or 1.1%, to its highest close for a most-active contract since April 2, according to FactSet data, after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude supplies rose 200,000 barrels for the week ended May 3. Analysts polled by Platts had expected a rise of 1.9 million barrels.

The gain lifted the total crude-supply level for the week to 395.5 million barrels. The only total that’s anywhere close to that level was logged in late July 1990, at 391.9 million barrels. The EIA data on the government website only stretch back to as far as August 1982.

Oil prices on Wednesday were also aided by a weaker dollar  and better-than-expected April trade data from China.

June Brent crude  on Thursday rose 15 cents, or 0.1%, to $104.49 a gallon.

Later Thursday, the energy market will likely look for demand clues from the U.S. weekly jobless claims report. Economists polled by MarketWatch expect a rise in applications for new unemployment benefits to a seasonally adjusted 335,000.

Natural gas for June delivery  slipped 3 cents, or 0.8%, to $3.95 per million British thermal units. Later Thursday, the EIA is due to release its weekly update on natural-gas supplies, and analysts surveyed by Platts forecast an increase of between 86 billion cubic feet and 90 billion cubic feet.

June heating oil  gained 1 cent, or 0.4%, to $2.93 a gallon, and June gasoline  picked up 2 cents, or 0.5%, to trade at $2.87 a gallon.