U.S. crude holds below $50 as weekly stockpiles rise

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SINGAPORE (July 23): Oil prices held steady in early Asian trade on Thursday, with U.S. crude trading below $50 a barrel near its lowest in more than three months as rising U.S. stockpiles and a strong dollar weighed on the contract.

U.S. crude for September delivery was 4 cents higher at $49.23 by 0112 GMT, after dropping $1.67 on Wednesday to settle below $50 for the first time since April. Brent crude was trading 10 cents lower at $56.03 a barrel.

Crude oil stocks in the United States rose 2.5 million barrels last week to above the five-year seasonal average, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed, contrasting with expectations of a 2.3 million-barrel drawdown.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point for the U.S. crude contract, also rose, the EIA said.

The dollar eased but held near a three-month high, making oil and other dollar-denominated commodities expensive for holders of other currencies.

Brent has shed about 12 percent this month on concerns about demand and the possibility that the Iranian nuclear deal could lead to higher supply.

Still, OPEC delegates from Gulf states and other nations say the drop in prices is likely to be short-term and will not deflect the cartel from its policy of keeping output high to defend market share.

Brent's premium to the U.S. benchmark <CL-LCO1=R> stood at $6.8 a barrel, widening more than $3 this month.