Brent crude oil futures gave up most of its early gains on Friday as a building supply glut and weak Japanese import data weighed on the market, but contracts held above $60 a barrel supported by U.S. economic data published over Christmas.
On the supply side, data suggested an increasing glut as a U.S. report showed crude inventories unexpectedly rose by 7.3 million barrels last week to their highest December level on record. Analysts had expected a seasonal draw. [EIA/S]
The demand picture was mixed, with price supporting data from the United States where jobless claims fell and third-quarter economic growth indicated the quickest pace in over a decade.
However, in Japan, crude imports in November dropped 17.3 percent from a year earlier to 14.68 million kilolitres (3.08 million barrels per day), data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed.
Front-month Brent crude prices were trading at $60.30 at 0557 GMT, down from a intraday high of $60.62 but barely changed since their last settlement.
U.S. WTI's front-month contract was up 8 cents at $55.92 a barrel, down from $56.23 hit earlier in the session, in thin trading as many countries were still on Christmas holiday.
"Prices seem adamant on staying above support levels, and it seems they will hold for this festive season," Singapore-based Phillip Futures said in a note.
"Normally, positive stockpile data of this magnitude would surely have broken support levels. However, it seems there is not enough downward pressure to keep prices down," it said.
"We continue to attribute this to the short-covering at the end of the year as oil bears close out positions to celebrate the New Year," Phillip Futures added.
Uncertainty around whether Brent can hold above $60 or not and lower liquidity toward the end of the year meant that price volatility has risen to levels this month last seen in 2012.
Brent is down 1.8 percent for the week, while U.S. crude was heading for a 1 percent drop.