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Oil prices drift lower; WTI holds near four-month high

Oil prices closed little changed, with the US contract near a four-month high after the International Energy Agency raised its global demand estimate and warned of tight supplies.

NEW YORK: Oil prices closed little changed on Thursday, with the US contract near a four-month high after the International Energy Agency raised its global demand estimate and warned of tight supplies.

The main US futures contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in March, dipped two cents to finish at $100.33 a barrel, holding steady near Wednesday's four-month high

In London trade, Brent North Sea crude for March, the international benchmark, settled at $108.73 a barrel, losing six cents from Wednesday. The contract expired on Thursday.

The market shrugged off lacklustre US retail and unemployment claims data, said Matt Smith of the newsletter The Daily Distillation.

But the IEA's February report on Thursday, raising demand expectations and highlighting the depletion of stocks globally, "helped crude finish above $100 when there is really not too much positive news on the demand side in the US," said Smith.

The IEA said a pick-up in demand in advanced countries, led by the United States, has more than compensated for slowing emerging-market consumption.

It pushed up its forecast for 2014 global demand to 92.6 million barrels per day (mbd), an increase of 125,000 barrels per day.

The Paris-based agency urged the OPEC cartel of crude-producers to skip a seasonal output drop as stocks touch six-year lows.

"Far from drowning in oil, markets have had to dig deeply into inventories to meet unexpectedly strong demand," said the IEA.

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