* Soaring U.S. crude inventories point to ongoing oversupply
* But record refinery runs indicate strong demand
* Saudis start cutting supplies, but alternatives are
By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE, Jan 12 Oil prices were steady early
on Thursday after U.S. crude and refined product stocks sent
mixed messages to the market, with ongoing uncertainty over OPEC
compliance with planned output reductions also in focus.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures
were trading at $52.24 a barrel at 0040 GMT, virtually unchanged
from their last settlement.
Prices for Brent crude futures, the international
benchmark for oil prices, were yet to trade.
Traders said that a crude oil and refined product inventory
report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
late on Wednesday had sent mixed messages to the market.
While an unexpectedly strong rise in crude inventories by
4.1 million barrels to 483.11 million barrels implied an ongoing
supply overhang, record U.S. refinery runs of 17.1 million
barrels per day (bpd), up 418,000 bpd on the week, indicated
ongoing strong demand.
"EIA data showed U.S. refineries increased the amount of
crude they processed, pushing the utilisation rate to the
highest since September. This saw inventories rise ... much more
than the market expected," ANZ bank said.
Outside the United States, emerging detail of Saudi supply
cuts as parts of efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers like Russia to
curb the global supply glut started to emerge.
Despite some February supply reductions to China, India and
Malaysia, top crude exporter Saudi Arabia is likely to focus its
cuts on Europe and the United States, shielding its biggest
customers in Asia.
But in an indicator that there is still plentiful supply
available despite the cuts, traders are ceasing the opportunity
of higher crude prices following OPEC's decision to cut output
to send record volumes of 22 million barrels of surplus European
and Azerbaijani oil to Asia.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)