* Brent's premium over U.S. crude widens past $20
* U.S. crude stocks up 2.62 mln bbls last week -EIA
* Market watches for ECB meeting outcome, China trade data
(New throughout, updates prices, market activity to settlement)
By Gabriel Debenedetti
NEW YORK, Feb 6 Brent crude oil futures posted a
modest rise on Wednesday on economic optimism, while U.S. crude
prices slipped after data showed an unexpected rise in U.S.
crude oil inventories.
Brent's premium over U.S. crude, or West Texas Intermediate,
widened past $20.00 a barrel. Oil prices tracked Wall Street for
much of the session, as U.S. stocks drifted lower after a recent
push to five-year highs. U.S. crude was up in the afternoon
before settling slightly lower.
"At the moment, we continue to follow the financials. The
market seems very sensitive to the economic factors and they
remain the primary driver," said Gene McGillian, analyst at
Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
The European Central Bank is expected to keep interest rates
at a record low of 0.75 percent when it meets on Thursday, but
the focus will be on whether policymakers are worried a strong
euro could hurt recovery in troubled economies such as Spain.
Brent settled up 21 cents at $116.73 a barrel but
remained below the previous day's session high, the highest
point since mid-September.
U.S. crude dropped 2 cents to settle at $96.62.
U.S. crude stocks were up 2.62 million barrels last week,
according to the Energy Information Administration's (EIA)
weekly inventory report.
Gasoline stocks rose 1.74 million barrels and distillate
stocks were off 1.04 million barrels, the EIA said.
"I think what we've got here is a situation once again where
crude oil is going to be backed up, because we'll be producing
more than we're refining," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price
Futures Group in Chicago, after the release of weekly inventory
numbers that showed high levels of U.S. crude.
"It is definitely a negative report and bearish for crude
oil as supplies continue to go higher."
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, kept crude
oil production steady at 9.05 million barrels per day (bpd) in
January, from 9.025 million bpd in December, an industry source
Economic data released this week suggested the euro zone
economy had turned a corner, with strong Markit Eurozone
Composite PMI data, based on business activity. But worries
persisted about political conflict in Italy and Spain.
Investors will watch for the ECB's meeting on Thursday and
China's trade numbers on Friday for more clues on the health of
the global economy and what it may mean for commodities demand.
(Additional reporting by Sabina Zawazki and Edward McAllister
in New York, Simon Falush in London; editing by James Jukwey,
David Goodman and David Gregorio)