Updated from 2:26 p.m. EDT
Oil prices came off of a six-week low Wednesday, despite a U.S. government figures showing slight increases in crude and gasoline inventories.
The benchmark U.S. crude gained 26 cents, or 0.7%, to settle at $37.54 a barrel, having fallen below $37 earlier in the session. Gasoline prices ended virtually unchanged at $1.167 a gallon. Crude prices had closed lower in four of the past five sessions.
The Department of Energy's report initially added to a recent slump triggered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' decision to increase production last week. Prices are down 11.6% since last Tuesday's record high of $42.45.
The DOE today released its weekly inventory report, which showed modest increases in energy supplies. Crude oil stocks rose to 302.1 million barrels for the week ended June 4, up 0.1% from the preceding week, and 6.5% from the same period a year ago. Gasoline inventories rose to 206.4 million barrels, up 1% from the week before, but down 0.8% from the year-ago period.
Chris McCormack, an energy broker at ABN Amro, said the market was stabilizing, partly for technical reasons. "The realities of the marketplace have finally caught up to the price," he said. "There's plenty of crude in the world and plenty available," he said.
Phil Flynn, head oil trader at Alaron Trading in Chicago, said "gasoline prices probably aren't going to skyrocket, so we're kind of in balance here."
Flynn also said that
Chairman Alan Greenspan's comments Tuesday could have a calming effect on markets. Greenspan said energy prices should stabilize.
"If he's worried about energy, he's just the guy that can slow this down," Flynn said.
Prices have fallen from an all-time high of more than $42 a barrel last week, as OPEC moved to allay traders' concerns about supply by increasing the cartel's official production ceiling.
At a meeting in Beirut last Thursday, OPEC members agreed to increase production by 2 million barrels a day in July and another a half-million barrels a day, if necessary, in August.
Together, that would boost output by 11% to 26 million barrels a day.
OPEC's move came as traders frequently bid prices to record highs in May, surpassing the previous high on the New York Mercantile Exchange set in October 1990 after Iraq had invaded Kuwait.
Strong global demand and worries about terrorist attacks on facilities in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, which built a $5 to $10 dollar a barrel premium into prices, fueled market speculation.
Oil last closed below $37 a barrel on April 24.