Updated from 12:43 p.m. EST
Oil futures finished strong on Wednesday after the Energy Information Administration released new crude and fuel inventory figures that showed a larger-than-expected draw from gasoline stores.
The April contract for light, sweet crude oil was up 33 cents to close at a two-month high of $61.79 a barrel at the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline climbed 3 cents to $1.84 a gallon, and heating oil finished the day flat at $1.78 a gallon.
Natural gas slid 23 cents to $7.30 per million British thermal units during the trading session. Inventory figures for natural gas will come out on Thursday.
The new inventory estimates were mostly in line with analyst estimates, according to Bill O'Grady, assistant director of market analysis for A.G. Edwards.
Crude inventories grew by 1.4 million barrels during the week ended Feb. 23. Bank of America analysts were anticipating an increase of 3.1 million barrels, but the consensus was around 2 million. Gasoline inventories fell by 1.9 million barrels, while analysts had expected only an 800,000 barrel decline.
Distillate inventories fell by 3.8 million barrels, which was in line with analyst estimates.
Crude oil and gasoline inventories remain above the average range for this time of year, according to the EIA inventory report.
The activity at the Nymex followed a volatile trading session on Tuesday during which crude oil traversed a 70-cent range in less than 15 minutes and the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
fell by more than 400 points.
The tumult during the prior session began in China, where the Shanghai Composite Index fell by 8.8%. Traders were concerned about signs that the Chinese economy is overheating.
Energy prices were unable to steer clear of the stock market collapse, even though the selling panic in equities was unwarranted, according to Dennis Gartman, publisher of
The Gartman Letter
"The Chinese selloff should be somewhat expected, as it comes after a 14% gain year-to-date and a spectacular 130% gain in 2006," Gartman wrote in his newsletter.
Meanwhile, energy stocks were mixed. The
iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil
ETF rose 2.2% to $37.62.
announced Tuesday that it will restart its McKee oil refinery in Sunray, Texas, by early April. The 168,000-barrel-per-day refinery has been shut-in since a fire erupted there on Feb. 16. Shares were up 0.3%.
was downgraded by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey to reduce from neutral after it announced that its profits in the fourth quarter fell by 27%. The stock closed 12.4% lower to $38.71.
Elsewhere, Texas-based electricity provider
was downgraded by CIBC World Markets from sector-perform to sector-underperform. Its stock was down a half a percent to $16.94.