Tokyo - Oil prices edged slightly lower in Asian trade on Thursday, but losses were curbed on upbeat sentiment over demand in the United States and China, analysts said.
The main US futures contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, eased 18 cents to $100.19 in mid-morning Asian trade while Brent for March delivery was down seven cents at $108.72.
Sanjeev Gupta, the head of the Asia-Pacific oil and gas practice at consultancy firm EY, said prices retained support following a rise in Chinese crude imports as well as investor confidence that the US Federal Reserve will continue its accommodative monetary policy.
Chinese trade data released on Wednesday showed the world's top energy consumer imported a record 6.63 million barrels of crude oil per day in January, up 5.2 percent from December.
Its trade surplus surged in January, with exports jumping 10.6 percent and imports 10.0 percent. Gupta said the figures “allayed fears of a slowdown” in the world's second-biggest economy.
Investors are also buoyed following comments by US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that the central bank's policy-making committee will not shake its current accommodative monetary policy.
Oil investors fear a sudden shift to a more restrictive policy as it will boost the greenback and make dollar-priced oil more expensive for buyers outside of the United States.
Severe winter weather in North America has also raised the demand outlook for heating fuel.
Official US stockpiles data for the week to February 7 showed supplies at the Oklahoma storage hub fell by 2.7 million barrels, after a drop of 1.5 million in the prior week.
Overall crude inventories, however, rose by 3.3 million barrels, slightly more than expected. - AFP