Oil prices rose to their highest level in two weeks on Wednesday as U.S. inventories of distillates fell unexpectedly, trumping a sharp rise in gasoline stocks.

Oil's gains extended the previous day's hefty rise, in tandem with a broad-based commodities rally, as a softening of the dollar attracted wider risk-taking.

Prices were lower in the early going on concerns over weak gasoline demand ahead of the U.S. driving season that kicks off on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday on May 30.

The main component in today's rise in crude futures is the supportive drawdown in distillate stocks, said Rich Ilczyszyn, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago.

We're also seeing a weaker dollar and higher prices in gold, silver and copper as supportive, he added.

The 19-commodity Reuters-Jefferies CRB index <.CRB>, a global commodities benchmark, rose 1.6 percent by 1:25 p.m. EDT (1725 GMT), after ending up 0.7 percent on Tuesday.

Inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed distillate stocks, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, fell 2.04 million barrels to 141 million barrels last week, the lowest since April 2009.

The data overshadowed a larger-than-expected 3.79 million barrel build in gasoline stocks and an unexpected modest gain of 616,000 barrels in crude stocks.

U.S. crude for July delivery rose $1.79 to $101.38 a barrel by 1:45 p.m. EDT (1745 GMT), after hitting a session high of $101.63, the highest intraday price since May 11.

In London, ICE Brent for July gained $2.26 to $114.79, after rising to a session high of $115.07, also highest since May 11.

Earlier, Brent rose on concerns about unrest in the Middle East and North Africa after violence escalated in Yemen while uncertainty over Libya's future festered as NATO strikes intensified.

South African President Jacob Zuma said he would visit Tripoli next week to discuss an exit strategy for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in cooperation with the Turkish government.


Sharp upward revisions of oil price forecasts by Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have deepened the schism between oil bears and bulls to levels unseen since oil prices peaked in 2008, a Reuters monthly poll showed.

While bears cited weak demand and ebbing geopolitical risk premiums as reasons for oil to plunge to $75 per barrel, bulls saw it soaring to $140 due to supply shortages and the limited ability of OPEC to cushion any new disruption.

Further signs of weaker economic demand in the U.S. appears to buttress bearish views about the future course of oil prices.

Data on Wednesday showed a larger-than-expected drop in new orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods in April, the largest decline in six months.

In other news, global oil trading firm Arcadia Energy rejected claims by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the futures market regulator, of crude oil price manipulation by its traders in 2008, and said it would fight the futures market regulator in court.

(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York; Jessica Donati in London; and Francis Kan in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy)