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WTI Crude Little Changed Amid Low Volumes on U.K. Boxing Day

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- West Texas Intermediate was little changed after rising for four of the previous five sessions, amid thin trading volumes with the U.K. closed for the post- Christmas Boxing Day holiday.

Futures climbed as much as 0.4 percent in New York. U.S. crude stockpiles dropped by 2.3 million barrels last week, a fourth weekly decline, according to a Bloomberg News survey this week before government data tomorrow. Striking workers at three French refineries owned by Total SA plan to meet with management today. Markets in London and New York were closed yesterday for Christmas.

“It will be a slow day because the U.K. is closed for a holiday,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix GmbH in Zug, Switzerland, said today by phone. “The main thing to watch, other than the snow, is there may be a resolution to the strikes affecting refineries in France.”

WTI for February delivery increased as much as 43 cents to $99.65 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract was 2 cents lower at $99.20 at 12:23 p.m. London time, after having gained 0.3 percent to $99.22 a barrel on Dec. 24. The volume of all futures traded was about 80 percent below the 100-day average. Prices have advanced 8.1 percent in 2013, set for the fourth annual gain in five years.

Brent for February settlement fell as much as 44 cents, or 0.4 percent, and was trading at $111.52 a barrel on the London- based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark crude was at a $12.29 premium to WTI. The spread narrowed on Dec. 24 for the first time in five days to close at $12.83.

Total Strike

Strikes at Total’s Feyzin, Gonfreville and La Mede refineries continued for a fourteenth day amid a pay dispute. Workers at Gonfreville, Total’s largest oil refinery in France, and the Feyzin site are set to decide again today after meetings with management whether to continue the work stoppage, Thierry Defresne, a CGT union official, said Dec. 24.

WTI has settled the past three days above its 200-day moving average, at $98.92 a barrel today, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Investors typically buy contracts when prices sustain an advance above chart-resistance levels.

“I wouldn’t look for much to happen, as it’s a public holiday here,” Tony Machacek, a broker at Bache Commodities Ltd. in London, said by phone. “There may be some book-squaring before the end of the year, but volumes are very light.”

U.S. crude stockpiles fell to 370 million barrels in the seven days ended Dec. 20, according to the median estimate of nine analysts Bloomberg surveyed on Dec. 23-24. Supplies increased by 716,000 barrels, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said on Dec. 24.

Gasoline Inventories

Gasoline inventories probably expanded by 1.1 million barrels last week, the survey shows. Distillate supplies, including diesel and heating oil, are projected to have decreased by 1 million.

The Energy Information Administration is scheduled to release its stockpile report at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Washington. The government requires that data be filed with the Energy Department’s statistical arm, while the API collects information on a voluntary basis from operators of refineries, bulk terminals and pipelines.

“WTI is trying to reach $100, but it may meet profit taking around that level,” Ken Hasegawa, an energy-trading manager at Newedge Group in Tokyo, said by phone today. A loss of crude output from South Sudan “will be a support factor for Brent,” he said.

Fighting in South Sudan, which exports about 220,000 barrels a day of crude, has killed at least 500 people and forced the government to evacuate some oil workers. Rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar said they captured the oil-producing state of Unity on Dec. 21. The country has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to data from BP Plc.

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