Oil Remains Stable As Concerns Over Demand Prompt Cautiousness

TOKYO, May 17 - Oil prices were little changed on Wednesday as traders remained cautious after a surprise rise in U.S. crude inventories stoked demand concerns on the heels of weaker-than-expected economic data from the United States and China.

Brent crude futures slipped 3 cents to $74.88 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude edged down 2 cents to $70.84 as of 0222 GMT.

"Crude prices remain heavy as energy traders just can't shake off global demand concerns. It doesn't matter how upbeat everyone is for China's second half of the year, the current situation is too disappointing," said Edward Moya, an analyst at OANDA.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose by about 3.6 million barrels in the week ended May 12, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures. 

U.S. government data on crude and product stockpiles is due at 1430 GMT.

The crude inventory build added to concerns about U.S. growth after data showed retail sales rose 0.4% in April, short of estimates for an increase of 0.8%.

Talks on raising the U.S. debt ceiling continue to weigh on the market. The U.S. Treasury Department has estimated that the United States will go into a crippling default as early as June 1 if Congress does not lift the debt ceiling.

In China, April industrial output and retail sales growth undershot forecasts, suggesting the economy lost momentum at the beginning of the second quarter.

"Sentiment soured amid stalled U.S. debt ceiling talks and disappointing retailers' earnings overnight. Recession fears again dragged on the global markets," said Tina Teng, an analyst at CMC Markets.

Markets are closely following any new steps on expanding sanctions on Russia by the Group of Seven (G7) leaders when they meet in Japan on May 19-21.

G7 is looking to target sanctions evasion involving third countries, aiming to limit Russia's future energy production and curb trade that supports Russia's military, officials with direct knowledge of the discussions have said.