Oil steadied below $76 a barrel on Wednesday after two days of losses, as investors awaited weekly U.S. inventory data expected to show refineries running harder to churn out more gasoline.

London Brent crude, seen as a better gauge of global markets than U.S. oil, rose 15 cents to $75.68 a barrel by 1221 GMT, after falling 76 cents the previous day. It hit a $78.40 peak on Monday, near a record high last August.

U.S. light crude rose 23 cents to $74.25 a barrel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its weekly report on crude oil and fuel stocks at 1430 GMT.

Crude stocks in top consumer the United States are at nine-year highs, but could have fallen by 200,000 barrels last week as refineries ramped up production runs, according to a Reuters poll.

Crude prices are close to record highs because of perceptions that strong global demand is now beginning to have an impact on high oil inventories, especially in the U.S.

The structure of the market is also shifting so that crude prices nearby are higher than prices further into the future, which typically signals a tighter supply outlook.

Tightness in crude supply is expected to spread to the U.S. over time, as U.S. refineries emerge from extended maintenance shutdowns, said Antoine Halff, analyst with Fimat USA.

The price surge over the past month has prompted calls from the International Energy Agency for OPEC to relax its current supply restraints, introduced in November last year and again in February to stabilize prices, which fell to around $50 in January.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which meets next in September, has resisted calls to pump more oil, saying there is enough crude and that high prices reflect tightness in products.

They want to keep OECD inventories a little bit more under control so they can manage downside risks more swiftly, said Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Barclays Capital.

Speculative inflows have contributed to the rise in crude prices, which saw Brent crude on Monday come within 25 cents of its record of $78.65 a barrel set on August 8 last year.

The New York Mercantile Exchange has said open interest for its crude oil contract and for several Brent crude oil contracts climbed to new highs on Monday.

There has been a flow in, helped on by the very strong upward price trend, said Horsnell at Barclays Capital.

(Additional reporting by Maryelle Demongeot in Singapore)