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[SINGAPORE] Oil prices edged higher in Asia Thursday but gains were capped owing to concerns about surging stockpiles in the United States, the world's top consumer, analysts said.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose 64 cents to US$49.48 while Brent crude for March gained 34 cents to US$55.00 in mid-morning trade.
"There is some optimism in the market at the moment, but the fundamentals have not changed," Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, told AFP.
"The increased US stockpiles adds to the worry about ample global supply, which is the main cause for the current bearish market," he added.
The US Department of Energy reported on Wednesday that commercial crude reserves rose 4.9 million barrels in the week ending February 6.
Stockpiles were "at the highest level for this time of year in at least the last 80 years", the agency added.
Oil prices have been under pressure for months, plunging about 60 per cent to just over US$40 a barrel between June and the end of January.
However, they have recovered slightly in recent weeks as the number of drilling rigs has fallen and oil companies have trimmed some investment.
Investors are also monitoring talks on Greece's demands to renegotiate its international bailout as the risk of debt default looms.
A meeting between Finance Minister Yaris Varoufakis and his counterparts from the eurozone late Wednesday broke up without agreement, with deliberations now set to go down to the wire next week.
"We expect price action to remain choppy as markets await for direction," said Singapore's United Overseas Bank.