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Oil gains as US crude stocks fall to lowest since Feb 2015

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Oil prices rose for the second consecutive day on Wednesday after US government data showed domestic crude inventories fell to their lowest levels since February 2015, easing worries about oversupply that have weighed on markets in recent weeks.

[NEW YORK] Oil prices rose for the second consecutive day on Wednesday after US government data showed domestic crude inventories fell to their lowest levels since February 2015, easing worries about oversupply that have weighed on markets in recent weeks.

Brent crude futures rose 49 cents to settle at US$73.93 a barrel, a 0.67 per cent gain.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 78 cents to settle at US$69.30 a barrel, a 1.14 per cent gain.

Prices extended gains in post-settlement trade after Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the world's top exporter was "temporarily halting" all oil shipments through Bab El-Mandeb strait immediately, after an earlier attack on two crude vessels by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

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The Bab El-Mandeb Strait is located between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea, and links the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

About 4.8 million barrels per day of crude and refined petroleum products flowed through the strait in 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration, which notes it is one of the primary "chokepoints" for oil delivery worldwide. On the news, Brent rose to US$74.50 in after-hours trading.

US crude inventories fell 6.1 million barrels in the week to July 20, data from the US Energy Information Administration showed, to 404.9 million barrels, their lowest since February 2015. Analysts had expected a decrease of 2.3 million barrels.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 1.1 million barrels, EIA said, their lowest since November 2014.

Petrol stocks fell 2.3 million barrels, EIA data showed, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 713,000-barrel drop. Meanwhile, US Midwest petrol stockpiles fell to their lowest seasonally since 2015.

"Stronger product demand rounds out a supportive report, encouraging a decent draw to gasoline stocks," said Matt Smith, director of commodities research at ClipperData.

However, price gains were limited after the release of the data because a majority of the crude stock draw was in the West Coast region, also known as PADD 5. Stocks in the area fell their most since December 2011.

The market usually discounts large inventory drawdowns when they are concentrated in the West Coast, said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York, because limited connectivity from the West Coast to the rest means it is "just not as critical to the overall inventory situation."

Oil prices have come under pressure this month as a trade dispute between the United States and China, as well as other major economic blocs, has raised the possibility of slower economic growth and weaker energy demand.

Reports that China will increase infrastructure spending reduced some concerns that US-China trade tensions will dent Chinese demand for oil.

REUTERS