) -- Crude oil prices closed higher Wednesday spurred by recovery hopes, a weaker dollar and a lower-than-expected build in weekly crude supplies.

The Energy Information Administration said oil inventories rose by 1 million barrels last week to 337.8 million barrels. That was short of expectations from analysts surveyed by Platts, who forecast a build of 1.4 million barrels. Gasoline stocks rose by 1 million barrels as well, though that sum was just higher than the anticipated 500,000 barrel rise. Distillate fuel stockpiles, which were expected to remain unchanged, fell by 500,000 barrels.

The weekly government data followed Tuesday's industry figures showing a heftier crude build up. The American Petroleum Institute reported a 3.4 million-barrel rise last week, as gasoline stocks rose 1.7 million barrels and distillates dropped by 2.4 million barrels.

Crude oil for January delivery on the Nymex gained $1.94, or 2.6%, to settle at $77.96 a barrel after holding flat ahead of the U.S. energy department's inventory report. Prices dipped as low as $75.50 a barrel earlier in the day.

Wednesday's upward trend follows a downward slide on Tuesday, when the January contract declined $1.54 to settle at $76.02 a barrel. Mixed economic reports fueling some questions about the robustness of the economic recovery pressured the energy sector yesterday.

In ETFs, the

United States Oil Fund

(USO) - Get Report

added 95 cents, or 2.5%, at $39.53.

Major integrated oil concerns turned broadly positive after the report, as

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report



(CVX) - Get Report

were bid higher by 0.6% and 0.7%, respectively.


(COP) - Get Report

, meanwhile, increased 0.01%.

The oil services segment dragged on the broader indices in the morning, but rebounded recently as the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector Index rose 0.9%. Index component


(HAL) - Get Report

warned of a 2-cent per share profit cut in fourth-quarter earnings because of activity downturn in Mexico. The stock had narrowed its losses late in Wednesday's trading session, but was still down by 21 cents, or 0.7%, at $30.25.

The Energy Information Administration also reported that natural gas inventories increased by a less-than-expected 2 billion cubic feet last week, reaching a record 3.84 trillion cubic feet. Natural gas futures remained solidly higher after the release, finishing the session up by 8.5% at $5.16 per million British thermal units.

Elsewhere on the Nymex, the January delivery contract for heating oil rose nearly 5 cents, or 2.3%, to settle roughly at $2.04 a gallon. Gasoline for January delivery advanced by 6 cents, or 3.1%, to $2.02 a gallon.

-- Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York