Commodities markets summary

A summary of trading in key commodities markets overseas:

ENERGY

Oil prices have risen modestly after a mixed US petroleum report showed declines in crude and petrol inventories that were larger than expected and a rise in crude production.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in July advanced 17 cents to finish at $US57.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday, ending a three-day losing streak.

Brent North Sea crude for July closed at $US62.58 a barrel in London trade, up 52 cents from Wednesday's settlement.

The oil market had traded lower earlier in the day after the Department of Energy (DoE) reported US commercial crude inventories fell by 2.8 million barrels to 479.4 million in the week through May 22, while petrol stockpiles fell by 3.3 million barrels.

Analysts on average had expected a smaller 2.0 million barrel decline in crude and a 1.3 million barrel drop in petrol, according to a survey by Bloomberg News.

It was the fourth straight week of falling US crude inventories after a steady build-up since January that has pushed stockpiles to record highs, aggravating the global supply glut.

The DoE also reported a rise in US crude production last week, by 304,000 barrels to 9.57 million barrels per day.

Gene McGillian of Tradition Energy said that the declines in crude and petrol stocks "were the primary reason why the market seems to have come back," but the DoE report "balanced that out by the 300,000 barrel build in US crude production which took us back to a 40-year high."

"I think with the decrease in drilling activity we'll see production come down, probably in the latter part of this year," he said.

PRECIOUS METALS

Gold prices have inched higher after hitting a two and a half week low on Thursday as the US dollar and global shares fell amid uncertainty about Greece staying in the euro zone.

Spot gold was up 0.1 per cent at $US1,188.30 an ounce after falling to $US1,180.55, the lowest since May 11.

US gold futures for June delivery settled up $US2.50 at $US1,188.10 an ounce.

European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio underlined the gravity of the situation facing Greece, talking openly about a possible default that would be the first of its kind in the eurozone.

A worsening of the Greek debt crisis could trigger demand for gold coins and bars.

Gold is usually seen as a hedge against political and financial risk, although the impact on demand from wider political worries is usually short-lived.

The US dollar turned down 0.2 per cent against a basket of currencies.

In the United States, data showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 for the week ended May 23.

This followed a sharp drop in gold prices on Tuesday, when US data showed strong core business spending, new home sales and consumer confidence.

The robust US releases added to views that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates soon.

BASE METALS

Copper and aluminium prices recovered from recent losses as the US dollar weakened against the euro and optimism grew over a Greek debt deal.

However some analysts were cautious over whether gains could be sustained due to plentiful supplies.

Most other base metals also rebounded from a recent downturn that had been partly due to a stronger US dollar, which makes commodities priced in the US currency more expensive to buyers using other currencies.

The euro has gained against the dollar after Greece expressed confidence this week it will soon seal a cash-for-reforms deal.

"We've had a bit of a bounce this morning. One of the reasons is because the dollar has stopped appreciating, in the short term at least," said Stephen Briggs, metals strategist at BNP Paribas in London.

A trader said some investors were buying to take profits from short positions after the recent down-swing.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange closed up 0.3 per cent to $US6,095 a tonne. On Wednesday copper touched its lowest since April 29 at $US6,075.50 a tonne.

While LME copper stocks have declined about five per cent over the past two months after rising earlier in the year, Briggs said he believes the trend will soon change.

"I think the copper market is in an underlying surplus and you'll start to see a pick up in LME stocks over the summer months, which could put some downward pressure on the price."

There was also concern about demand tapering off after the second quarter, when metal consumption is typically strongest.

But a series of infrastructure announcements from Beijing, along with policy stimulus, could yet underpin metals demand into the second half, said Morgan Stanley analyst Joel Crane in Melbourne.

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