UPDATE 5-Oil prices steady on mixed supply signals

LONDON () – Oil prices were steady on Wednesday as disruptions to Venezuela’s crude exports provided support but were offset by a report that U.S. fuel inventories rose last week. FILE PHOTO: An oil well pump jack is seen at an oil field supply yard near Denver, Colorado, U.S., February 2, 2015. /Rick Wilking/File PhotoBrent crude futures were up 15 cents at $68.12 a barrel at 1140 GMT. U.S. crude futures were unchanged at $59.94 a barrel. Venezuela’s main oil export port of Jose and its four crude upgraders were unable to resume operations following a massive power blackout on Monday, the second in a month. Crude exports from the key OPEC member have dropped sharply since Washington banned U.S. refiners from buying Venezuelan oil in January. Oil prices have risen more than 25 percent this year, supported by supply curbs by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers, along with U.S. sanctions on exports from Venezuela and Iran. But prices for both benchmarks veered up and down this week, as economic concerns vied with tighter supply. “Yo-yo price swings have become the norm in the oil market,” PVM analyst Stephen Brennock said in a note, citing Venezuela’s supply curbs and concerns over global growth. “The game of oil price ping pong should continue. Those searching for clues for the next leg will be eagerly awaiting today’s update concerning U.S. oil stockpiles. Prices were pressured by a report from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization, saying U.S. crude inventories rose 1.9 million barrels last week, while analysts had forecast a 1.2 million barrel drop. The Department of Energy (DoE) will release official weekly figures later on Wednesday.[EIA/S] Brent crude traded in a relatively narrow range of $64 to $69 a barrel throughout March, reflecting the tension between tightening supplies and concerns over global demand. “We seem to have reached a state of equilibrium after the recent headline-driven choppy trading, and we need to see some new impetus for price direction,” said Jeff Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA in Singapore. At the same time, disruptions in the United States have also lent support. The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday reopened portions of the Houston Ship Channel with restrictions on waterways affected by a petrochemical leak and fire outside Houston that have disrupted ship traffic. Also, crude flows from two key shale basins to the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point for U.S. crude futures slowed in March due to winter production outages, dealers said. Hedge funds and other money managers have increased bets that demand for oil will be sustained, even as the market rallied last week. GRAPHIC: Hedge Funds’ Crude Oil Positions Rebound – tmsnrt.rs/2UVGINJ Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo and Koustav Samanta in Singapore; Editing by David Evans and Louise HeavensOur Standards:The Thomson Trust Principles.