Oil slips after U.S. crude stocks build to record high

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Oil prices ended slightly lower on Wednesday as record high U.S. crude supplies tempered expectations that the market will rebalance as evidence emerges that OPEC producers are complying with an agreement to cut production. Crude stockpiles in the United States, the world's top oil consumer, rose 1.5 million barrels last week, less than forecast, but touching a record at 520.2 million barrels after eight straight weekly builds.[EIA/S]The consecutive increases have fueled worries that demand growth may not be sufficient to soak up the global oil glut despite a deal by major oil producers to cut output during the first half of the year. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures for April delivery CLc1 settled at $53.83 a barrel, down 18 cents or 0.3 percent. May Brent crude futures LCOc1 dropped 15 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $56.36 a barrel.

"The EIA stats don't offer much in the way of surprises this week," said David Thompson, executive vice-president at Powerhouse, an energy-specialized commodities broker in Washington. "Lack of weather-generated demand for heating oil will be offset in coming weeks by agricultural demand, but with refineries coming back into service, the market looks capable of meeting any increased demand." Despite the reaction to the data, oil remained locked within a tight trading range as some investors took heart from strict OPEC compliance with its pledge to cut output.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries reduced its oil output for a second month in February, a Reuters survey found, showing the exporter group has boosted already strong compliance to around 94 percent. Heftier cuts by Saudi Arabia and Angola helped offset weaker compliance by other members that agreed to limit their output.

However, oil production in Russia, which pledged to cut its output by 300,000 barrels per day under an agreement with OPEC, fell in February to around 11.1 million bpd from over 11.2 million bpd in October, two sources familiar with the data told Reuters, showing weak compliance with agreed supply curbs. The market offered little reaction to news of a rise in North Sea crude supply next month. Loading programmes for the four crudes that underpin dated Brent showed a rise to 908,000 bpd from March's 884,000 bpd. [O/LOAD]