US crude stockpiles fell last week by far more than analysts had expected, the US government said on Wednesday, taking oil prices higher in afternoon trading.

The Energy Information Administration, the statistics arm of the US energy department, said crude inventories dropped by 5.8m. This compared to expectations for a fall of 1.5m barrels, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters.

Already on an upward trend earlier in the day, Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose by $1.83 a barrel to $74.42 — the highest in two weeks — while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, increased by $1.67 a barrel to $67.45.

Gasoline stocks increased by 1.2m barrels even as analysts had forecast a drop of 488,000 barrels.

Distillate stockpiles — that include fuels such as diesel and heating oil — rose by 1.8m barrels, compared with estimates for a 1.5m barrels increase.

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