LONDON — World oil prices rose on Wednesday, extending this week's strong run on the back of falling US fuel inventories and growing global economic optimism, analysts said.
New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, added just seven cents to 77.30 dollars a barrel.
London's Brent North Sea crude for March gained 21 cents to 76.27 dollars per barrel.
The US government's Department of Energy (DoE) revealed Wednesday that gasoline or petrol reserves sank by 1.3 million barrels in the week ending January 29. That confounded market expectations for a gain of one million.
The DoE added that inventories of distillates -- including diesel and heating fuel -- fell 900,000 barrels. Analysts had pencilled in an 800,000-barrel decline.
Crude oil stockpiles meanwhile leapt by 2.3 million barrels. Market expectations had been for no change.
The DoE added Wednesday that US refiners cut back last week to operate at 77.8 percent of capacity.
That was the lowest rate in at least 20 years, outside the immediate aftermath of a hurricane.
"US DoE reported record low refinery runs for the week ending 29 January 2009, reflecting the lack of demand," said Calyon analyst Christophe Barret.
This week, crude oil prices have soared as the market grew more optimistic about global economic growth and energy demand, analysts said.
Investor sentiment was buoyed as equity markets put in strong performances and manufacturing data from the United States reassured nervous investors.
The market was also pushed higher by news of fresh unrest in Nigeria's key oil-producing region.
"The market this week has reacted very positively to much better-than-expected manufacturing data from all round the world and MEND's calling off their ceasefire in Nigeria," PVM analyst Philip Wiper said.
Nigeria's main rebel group vowed Tuesday to carry out fresh attacks on oil facilities "in the weeks to come" in the key Niger Delta region.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it "restates its warning to oil companies regarding their staff who they are putting in harm's way by their continued presence on our soil."
The group on Saturday called off a truce it declared on October 25 and threatened an "all-out onslaught."
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