Updated from 1:51 p.m. EDT

Oil prices caught a bid Thursday as bulls continued to defend the $60-a-barrel support level.

After falling to $60.20 earlier, December crude finished up 43 cents to $61.09 a barrel. Unleaded gasoline rose nearly a penny to $1.59 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 34 cents to $13.70 per million British thermal units. Heating oil finished down a fraction of a penny at $1.85 per gallon.

Gas was under pressure after the Energy Department said U.S. inventories rose by 77 billion cubic feet last week, ahead of estimates for a rise of about 65 billion. The report comes a day after the department reported a stronger-than-expected jump in crude stocks.

Wednesday's crude report "was not a big surprise," said Mike Armbruster, energy analyst at Altavest Worldwide Trading. "The real problem is the refining capacity. That's what we really have to grapple with. The products are going to be the leader rather than crude.

"In the big picture, we're still a bit bearish about the market," Armbruster added. "We wouldn't be anxious to take a position right now."

The recovery of storm-battered refineries in the Gulf of Mexico continues. The U.S. Minerals Management Service said Thursday the gulf's shut-in oil production was about 1 million barrels of oil per day, the equivalent to 68.15% of the gulf's daily oil production. The shut-in gas production was 5.559 billion cubic feet per day, the equivalent to 55.59% of the gulf's daily gas production.

In company news, Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS-A) posted third quarter earnings of $9.39 billion, or $1.35 a share, up 67% from last year's $5.62 billion, or 80 cents a share. The latest period included a gain of $1.77 billion related to the sale of a Dutch pipeline and certain gas contracts. Shell's top line rose 8% to $77.44 billion.

Exxon ( XOM) posted third-quarter net income of $9.92 billion, or $1.58 a share, up from $5.68 billion, or 88 cents a share, a year ago. Results included a $1.62 billion gain from a business realignment.

Revenue jumped to $100.7 billion from $76.4 billion a year ago. Excluding items, Exxon earned $8.3 billion, or $1.32 a share, missing the Thomson First Call average consensus of $1.38 a share. The stock was recently down 45 cents, or 0.8%, to $55.75 on Instinet.

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