U.S. crude prices were steady early on Thursday supported by rising refining activity while swelling crude stocks weighed, but analysts said that a 20-month market rout had likely bottomed out.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were trading at $34.68 per barrel at 0058 GMT, virtually unchanged from their last settlement.
Analysts said that the minimal price movement on Thursday was due to bullish and bearish fundamentals offsetting each other.
“Crude oil prices were sideways. Rising U.S. refinery utilisation is supporting prices. But U.S. crude stockpiles continue to rise … Oil inventories rose 2 percent, or 10.4 million barrels, to 517.98 million barrels,” ANZ bank said on Thursday.
More broadly, many analysts think that a 20-month market rout that has pulled down crude prices by 70 percent may have ended.
Reuters technical analysts Wang Tao said that U.S. crude prices had ended a multi-year downtrend this week and that WTI prices would target prices above $40 per barrel in March.
“The price action in oil adds to the case that the bottom in the crude oil market could now be in place for 2016,” ANZ said.
WTI has gained over a third in value since Feb. 11, when prices dropped to little more than $26 per barrels, levels not seen since 2003.