WTI crude little changed amid low volumes on U.K. Boxing Day

West Texas Intermediate (NYMEX:CLG14) was little changed after rising for four of the previous five sessions, amid thin trading volumes with the U.K. closed for the post- Christmas Boxing Day holiday.

Futures climbed as much as 0.4% in New York. U.S. crude stockpiles dropped by 2.3 million barrels last week, a fourth weekly decline, according to a Bloomberg News survey this week before government data tomorrow. Striking workers at three French refineries owned by Total SA plan to meet with management today. The market was closed yesterday for Christmas.

“It will be a slow day because the U.K. is closed for a holiday,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix GmbH in Zug, Switzerland, said today by phone. “The main thing to watch, other than the snow, is there may be a resolution to the strikes affecting refineries in France.”

WTI for February delivery increased as much as 43 cents to $99.65 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract was 8 cents higher at $99.30 at 1:50 p.m. London time, after having gained 0.3% to $99.22 a barrel on Dec. 24. The volume of all futures traded was about 83% below the 100-day average. Prices advanced 8.2% in 2013, set for the fourth gain in five years.

Brent for February settlement fell as much as 44 cents, or 0.4%, and was trading at $111.85 a barrel on the London- based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark crude was at a $12.53 premium to WTI. The spread narrowed on Dec. 24 for the first time in five days to close at $12.83.

Total Strike

Strikes at Total’s Feyzin, Gonfreville and La Mede refineries continued for a fourteenth day amid a pay dispute. Workers at Gonfreville, Total’s largest oil refinery in France, and the Feyzin site are set to decide again today after meetings with management whether to continue the work stoppage, Thierry Defresne, a CGT union official, said Dec. 24.

WTI has settled the past three days above its 200-day moving average, at $98.92 a barrel today, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Investors typically buy contracts when prices sustain an advance above chart-resistance levels.

“I wouldn’t look for much to happen, as it’s a public holiday here,” Tony Machacek, a broker at Bache Commodities Ltd. in London, said by phone. “There may be some book-squaring before the end of the year, but volumes are very light.”

U.S. crude stockpiles fell to 370 million barrels in the seven days ended Dec. 20, according to the median estimate of nine analysts Bloomberg surveyed on Dec. 23-24. Supplies increased by 716,000 barrels, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said on Dec. 24.

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