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NEW YORK: Oil futures rose on Thursday, but were off the day's highs, despite a sharper-than-expected decline in crude oil and gasoline stocks.

Oil has not sustained gains for more than a couple of weeks since investors became increasingly concerned about the overhang of supply. Those concerns have steadily taken markets lower even as inventories have declined more dramatically in recent weeks.

US crude stocks fell 6.3 million barrels, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, citing stronger refining activity and reduced imports. That was much more than the draw of about 2.3 million barrels analysts had forecast, and it took total crude inventories to 502.9 million barrels, the lowest since January.

However, crude prices gave back gains in the early afternoon. After hitting a high of $46.53 a barrel, US futures were up 25 cents to $45.38 a barrel as of 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT). Brent futures hit a high of $49.18 a barrel after the figures were released, but were up just 20 cents to $47.99 a barrel.

"There's a lot of bearishness out there now," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "The market is still believing supplies are not going to be in balance globally."

Investors believe the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will need to make further output cuts to offset thriving shale production in the United States.

US gasoline stocks dropped 3.7 million barrels in the most recent week, far exceeding the expected drop of 1.1 million barrels. Still, gasoline inventories remain about 6 percent above seasonal averages, so investors will watch for July data to see if demand is strong enough to whittle down stocks.

The price of oil has tumbled from one-month highs just below $50 on increased production from OPEC, even as the group has pledged to cut output.

A number of investment banks in the last two weeks have reduced price outlooks, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch cutting its average Brent forecasts to $50 this year and $52 per barrel in 2018, from $54 and $56 before. [nL1N1JR09A

Bernstein Research reduced its average Brent forecasts for 2017 and 2018 to $50 per barrel, from $60 and $70 previously.

Saxo Bank said oil prices could rise towards $55 in coming months, but it expected lower prices at year-end and into 2018.

 

Copyright Reuters, 2017