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Oil stays above $100 ahead of Yellen testimony

The price of oil made small gains above $100 a barrel Tuesday ahead of Congressional testimony by the U.S. Federal Reserve's new chief and reports that are expected to show falling stockpiles of crude oil and distillates.

By early afternoon in Europe, the benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 22 cents to $100.28 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Monday, the Nymex contract gained 18 cents to settle at $100.06, its first close above $100 since Dec. 27.

Investors are waiting to see whether Janet Yellen, who was last week confirmed as Fed chief, will consider a pause in the central bank's withdrawal of the monetary stimulus after a second month of weak hiring.

U.S. government data showed the number of jobs created in January was much lower than expected but unemployment fell to its lowest point in six years.

The U.S. central bank has embarked on a policy to gradually reduce its stimulus, which has helped shore up a number of financial assets over the past few years, including oil prices.

Investors will also be monitoring new information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ending Feb. 7 is expected to show a buildup of 2.5 million barrels in crude oil stocks and gasoline stocks unchanged, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. Distillate stocks, which include heating fuels, are forecast to have fallen 2.5 million barrels.

The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration - the market benchmark - will be out on Wednesday.

"It seems that bulls may be in control as prices hold on tentative support levels around $100 on strengthening fundamentals as participants anticipate further drawdowns in distillate stocks this week owing to the colder weather conditions in the U.S.," analyst Kash Kamal said in a note from Sucden Financial Research.

Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 21 cents to $108.84 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading in New York:

- Wholesale gasoline was up 1.23 cents to $2.7371 a gallon.

- Heating oil shed 0.25 cent to $3.0006 a gallon.

- Natural gas added 9.9 cents to $4.678 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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