Oil eased below $79 a barrel on Wednesday, as mildly bearish October loans data from China offset signs of robust industrial output and retail sales from the world's second-largest energy consumer.

Data released on Wednesday showed that China's industrial output growth spurted to a 19-month high in the year to October, underlining the economy's brisk recovery from the global downturn in response to massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.

But local currency loans more than halved in October from the previous month. Loans are seen as a driver of China's domestic demand-led economic recovery and a factor behind fund flows into the Chinese stock market.

The dollar dipped broadly on the back of the mixed Chinese data, hitting a 15-month low against a basket of currencies.

U.S. crude for December delivery fell 33 cents to $78.72 a barrel by 0600 GMT (1 a.m. EST), after rising 26 cents to $79.31 in early trade. London Brent crude was down 25 cents at $77.25.

Oil prices have risen about 77 percent so far this year, but are still 46 percent off their high of more than $147 a barrel struck in July last year.

We do not think that the fundamentals justify prices at such levels, given high inventories and with demand still weak, but you can't argue with the market, said David Moore, commodity strategist with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

The pace of demand recovery in the United States remains patchy. U.S. crude stocks rose 1.2 million barrels last week, higher than analyst projections for a 600,000-barrel build, as imports rebounded, weekly inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.

Inventories of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel, posted a surprise gain of 640,000 barrels, compared with analyst forecasts for a fall of 700,000 barrels due to colder weather in the northeastern United States.

Inventory data from the Energy Information Administration has been pushed back to Thursday by a U.S. national holiday.

A monthly report by producer group OPEC, due later in the day, could also offer clues on the outlook for global oil demand.

Further supporting oil were comments by Qatar Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah that OPEC would keep production targets steady at its December 22 meeting.

Al-Attiyah said on Wednesday OPEC was unlikely to substantially alter output plans when it meets next month as oil inventories are high and there is no shortage in the market.

Oil fell on Tuesday after Ida, the first real storm threat of the 2009 season, was downgraded from a hurricane on Monday, and as companies began restoring their Gulf of Mexico operations.

But the U.S. Minerals Management Service said more than 43 percent of oil output and nearly 28 percent of natural gas output remained shut late on Tuesday.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)