12/21/2011 03:21 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

Oil rises sharply for second day as U.S. crude inventories fall dramatically

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Oil prices rose Wednesday after a U.S. government report showed a dramatic drop in U.S. crude supplies.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude rose $1.43 to finish at US$98.67 a barrel in New York. Brent crude was up 98 cents, ending at US$107.71 a barrel in London.

Oil inventories typically fall at the end of the year because refiners draw down inventories for tax reasons, but Wednesday's drop was far larger than analysts expected.

The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that inventories fell by 10.6 million barrels. Analysts on average forecast a drop of 2.3 million barrels, according to Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill.

Phil Flynn, an analyst at PFG Best in Chicago, said inventory declines in recent weeks have been slower than normal, so refiners were likely playing catch-up. "They are hiding it from the tax man," he said.

After the first of the year, refiners will start building up their supplies again.

Oil prices were also pushed up by better global economic news and fears that strife in some important oil-producing nations could restrict supplies.

Tensions between Iran and western countries are rising over Iran's nuclear ambitions, raising fears that oil from the world's fourth biggest producer may be kept from reaching markets in the coming weeks.

Oil traders also are concerned about political instability in Kazakhstan, which exports about 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, about 1.5 per cent of world demand. The Central Asian country has been battling political protests that have resulted in about 15 deaths in the last month.

Encouraging news about consumer confidence in Germany, a debt auction in Spain and more housing construction in the U.S. sent world stock markets soaring and oil prices up more than three per cent on Tuesday. On Wednesday, however, stock markets in the U.S. and Europe fell back on worries over Europe's ongoing debt crisis. This likely stopped oil from rising even further than it did, analysts say.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose six cents to finish US$2.9087 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and gasoline futures rose four cents to end at US$2.6199 a gallon. Natural gas rose three cents to US$3.1550 per 1,000 cubic feet.