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Oil prices steady before US stockpiles report

LONDON--Oil prices steadied on Friday as dealers looked ahead to a U.S. stockpiles report expected to indicate bullish demand in the world's top crude consumer, analysts said.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in February, edged up three cents to US$99.61 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February fell 23 cents to US$111.75 a barrel.

Despite crude coming under pressure, Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said prices retained support as traders anticipated the U.S. report would show a significant fall in petroleum supplies.

Traders are “positioning themselves for the possibility of some good inventory figures,” Spooner told AFP.

The report from the U.S. Department of Energy is usually released on Wednesdays, but it has been delayed until Friday due to the Christmas holidays.

Analysts expect a decline in U.S. supplies of 2.2 million barrels, according to a survey by the Wall Street Journal. This would mean a fourth consecutive drop after a 10-week run of rises that added 35 million barrels to total stockpiles.

A dip in U.S. stockpiles indicates strong demand in the world's biggest economy and oil consuming nation, propping up prices.

Investors are also keeping an eye on developments in oil producer South Sudan, where output has been threatened following a wave of deadly ethnic violence.

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