Oil prices rose slightly in Asian trade on Thursday as severe cold weather appeared to have spurred some disruptions in U.S. production, while military action in the Middle East raged on.

But gains in crude were limited by industry data showing an unexpected build in U.S. inventories. While the cold weather caused some production stoppages, it also appeared to have dissuaded travel, which is a key driver of U.S. fuel demand.

Strength in the dollar weighed on oil prices, as traders priced in a smaller chance of early interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, following stronger-than-expected retail sales data.

Oil prices were also reeling from steep intraday losses on Wednesday, after gross domestic product data from top importer China missed expectations for the fourth quarter. Overall growth in 2023 also barely edged past a government target, indicating sustained economic weakness in the world’s largest oil importer.

Brent oil futures expiring in March rose 0.5% to $78.23 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.6% to $72.90 a barrel by 20:25 ET (01:25 GMT).

Both contracts were trading largely flat so far in 2024, as markets weighed expectations of worsening demand against fears of tighter Middle Eastern supplies. U.S. and UK forces carried out a fresh wave of strikes against the Iran-aligned, Yemen-based Houthi group this week, as the group continued with its attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

Oil prices had sharply pared intraday losses on Wednesday after top U.S. oil producing state North Dakota said severely cold weather would see output fall by over 50%- a trend that is likely to dent overall U.S. production, which hit record highs over the past two months.

US oil inventories unexpectedly rise, product stockpiles see sustained builds- API

But severe cold weather in the U.S. appeared to also be eating into demand. Data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed an unexpected build in U.S. inventories over the week to January 12.

A particular point of contention was gasoline and distillate inventories logging a third consecutive week of strong gains, highlighting weaker demand in the world’s largest fuel consumer. Cold weather shut down travel across vast swathes of the U.S. over the past two weeks.

The API data usually heralds a similar reading from official inventory data, which is due later on Thursday.

Elsewhere, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries released its first monthly report for 2024, slightly earlier than usual amid increased market uncertainty.

The cartel maintained its global oil demand forecast for 2024, and said demand will grow by 1.85 million barrels per day in 2025.

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