NEW YORK — Crude oil prices climbed more than $1 to close near the $51 mark after U.S. crude inventories fell 1.6 million barrels, the second drop in 15 weeks.
Light, sweet crude for July delivery rose $1.31 to $50.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after hitting $51.60 earlier in the day. Heating oil prices rose more than 4 cents to $1.4284 a gallon, while unleaded gasoline rose more than 2 cents to $1.4517 a gallon.
On the International Petroleum Exchange, Brent crude rose $1.25 to $50.07.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s midweek petroleum data showed U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell 1.6 million barrels to 332.4 million barrels in the week ending May 20 from the previous week. It is just the second decline in 15 weeks. Still, inventories are 31.8 million barrels higher than year-ago levels.
Analysts had anticipated another rise in crude.
“The market was so accustomed to see builds in crude stocks, so they were shocked to see a drop,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. “That’s why you see this buying kick in.”
Meanwhile, U.S. gasoline inventories rose 600,000 barrels to 215.4 million barrels, up from 203.6 million a year ago.
Distillates rose 1.9 million barrels to 105.7 million, up from 104.7 million last year but still in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. High sulfur distillates, or heating oil, comprised most of that increase, rising 1.6 million barrels to 39.7 million barrels, up from 35.9 million a year ago.
Crude prices are about $7 lower than their all-time high of $58.28 set April 4.
After several weeks of market bearishness, this decline in crude could signal the end of this season’s crude builds, said Michael Guido, a commodity strategist.
The rally in crude futures was also helped by U.S. durable goods and housing figures, Flynn said.
Noises from key OPEC nations about possibly reducing production also put some upward pressure on prices. Joining such suggestions from Venezuela, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Wednesday that the option of cutting output is “something that needs to be discussed.”