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) -- Oil futures topped $76 in the early afternoon, just after a government report said oil inventories grew less than expected as fuel stockpiles dropped.

On Thursday, the Energy Department reported that oil stockpiles grew by a slender 400,000 barrels last week, bringing the total to 337.8 million barrels. According to analysts surveyed by Platts, many were expecting a much larger 2.2 million barrel build.

But as in prior weekly showings, the headlines will likely center on fuel inventories, with gasoline stocks falling by a marked 5.2 million barrels on refinery cuts. Forecasts showed many expecting those stockpiles to grow by 1.6 million barrels.

Distillate fuel stocks, too, dropped by 1.1 million barrels, while propane and propylene inventories ticked higher by 100,000 barrels.

Still, all of the inventories remain higher compared to averages for this time of year.

Front-month crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange, which was trading higher just before the report's release, was breaking past the $76 barrier and trading at its highest levels of the year. Light sweet crude was up $1.33 at $76.51 per barrel in the early afternoon.

Elsewhere, while the larger indexes were moving lower, oil equities were mixed. Shares of

Exxon Mobil

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(CVX) - Get Chevron Corporation Report

were moving higher, gaining 0.7% and 0.6% each.

Marathon Oil

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(MRO) - Get Marathon Oil Corporation Report

shares were also tracking higher, adding 9 cents, or 0.3%, at $33.98.


(COP) - Get ConocoPhillips Report



(HES) - Get Hess Corporation Report

shares were bidding lower, down 0.3% and 0.6%, respectively.

Occidental Petroleum

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, too, was treading in the red, down 13 cents, or 0.2%, at $81.64.

Anadarko Petroleum

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shares were tumbling $3.66, or 5.3%, at $65.70 after the company released news of clashing drilling results. The company reported a successful test its Mahogany-4 site in Ghana, but also reported no oil found at a well off the shore of Cote d'Ivoire.

-- Written by Sung Moss in New York

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