Oil Futures Higher in Morning Trade

Washington, D.C. (DTN) -- Oil futures nearest delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange and Intercontinental Exchange Brent crude extended higher Wednesday morning on better-than-expected Chinese economic data, while also bolstered by a large draw in U.S. crude inventories, according to industry data.

In midmorning trade, the West Texas Intermediate May Nymex contract traded $0.10 up to $64.15 per barrel (bbl), while ICE Brent June futures edged $0.06 higher to $71.78 bbl.

Nymex ULSD May contract was slightly lower at $2.0805 gallon, while RBOB May futures moved 1.09 cents higher to $2.0426 gallon.

Chinas National Bureau of Statistics released overnight a set of bullish economic data, pointing to strong growth in the world's second largest economy. According to official figures, the Chinese economy expanded 6.4% in the first quarter, supported by better-than-expected industrial output and retails sales last month. Industrial production jumped 8.5% year-on-year in March, surging to the fastest growth since July 2014. Retail sales for March grew by 8.7% year-on-year, exceeding a projected 8.4% increase.

Oil traders have been closely monitoring Chinese refinery throughput figures, which jumped 3.2% in March to 12.49 million barrels per day (bpd), indicating strong fuel demand from an Asian economic powerhouse. Analysts have already attributed the better-than-expected performance of the Chinese economy to stimulus measures announced by Beijing last year to prop up the decelerating growth.

Demand growth from China comes amid tightening global supplies, as U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela look increasingly effective. Oil futures were lifted on Tuesday by reports that Iran's crude oil exports dropped below 1 million bpd in April, the lowest level so far this year, according to tanker tracking data. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury slapped additional sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector, targeting more shipping companies operating in the country and vessels transporting Venezuelan oil in an effort to choke supplies from the troubled OPEC member.

The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday afternoon reported an unexpected 3.096 million bbl draw in domestic crude oil inventories in the week ended April 12 to 452.7 million, versus market expectations for a 1.9 million bbl increase. API data also showed a further decline in gasoline supplies, which tumbled 3.561 million bbl in the profiled week, while distillate inventories jumped 2.330 million bbl.

Liubov Georges can be reached at liubov.georges@dtn.com