Oil prices steady ahead of U.S. stockpiles data

Oil prices were steady Wednesday ahead of the release of figures on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined fuels that will be a key indicator of expected demand.

Benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery was down 5 cents at $103.35 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 13 cents to close at $103.40 on Tuesday.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down 46 cents to $108.60 on the ICE exchange in London.

Energy Information Administration data for the week ending July 4 is expected to show declines of 3 million barrels in crude oil stocks and of 1 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

Oil has been falling steadily, partly because worries about disruptions to the oil supply from Iraq have subsided. Oil hit a 10-month closing high of $107.26 on June 20.

Gauging demand in coming months from the world's two major economies, the U.S. and China, will be key for energy prices.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

- Wholesale gasoline was down 1.7 cents at $2.956 a gallon.

- Natural gas was little changed at $4.207 per 1,000 cubic feet.

- Heating oil fell 0.7 cent to $2.867 a gallon.