Oil prices hovered below $105 a barrel on Wednesday in Asia after a report showed US crude supplies rose more than expected last week, suggesting rising fuel costs may be crimping demand.
Benchmark crude for May delivery was down 24 cents to $104.55 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 81 cents to settle at $104.79 on Tuesday.
In London, Brent crude was down 23 cents at $114.93 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.
Crude has jumped about 24% since Feb. 15, and investors are concerned higher prices for gasoline and heating oil will eventually hurt consumer demand.
The American Petroleum Institute said late Tuesday that crude inventories rose 5.7 million barrels last week while analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., had forecast an increase of 2.2 million barrels. Inventories of gasoline fell 1.9 million barrels and distillates fell 112,000 barrels, the API said.
The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration reports its weekly supply data later on Wednesday.
Traders are also watching closely violent political protests throughout the oil-rich Middle East and North Africa in 2011. On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad fired his Cabinet and promised to end 48-year-old emergency laws. Syrian security forces have killed more than 60 anti-government demonstrators since March 18, according to Human Rights Watch.
"The sudden resignation of the Syrian government was seen by many traders as a sign that the unrest continues to spread and take root in the Middle East," Cameron Hanover said in a report.
In other Nymex trading for April contracts, heating oil fell 0.1 cent at $3.03 a gallon and gasoline dropped 0.5 cents at $3.04 a gallon. Natural gas rose 0.5 cents to $4.27 per 1,000 cubic feet.