The price of oil was little changed near $93 a barrel on Wednesday as markets digested the Federal Reserve chairman's fairly sanguine view about the risks emanating from the central bank's super-easy monetary policy.
By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for April delivery was up 7 cents to $92.70 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 48 cents Tuesday to settle at $92.63.
In the opening remarks of his semiannual report to Congress on Tuesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the Fed's efforts to keep borrowing costs low will continue. Bernanke expressed confidence that the central bank's policies, which include near zero percent interest rates, currently pose little risk to inflation or a stock market bubble.
His comments doused worries the Fed might soon start scaling back its monetary stimulus. Bernanke's comments helped stabilize markets after inconclusive Italian election results triggered renewed concerns over Europe's debt crisis.
A continuation of easy monetary policy in the U.S. would also maintain the downward pressure on the dollar and potentially boost the price of oil since it is traded in dollars, and might be more affordable for investors with other currencies.
"The commodity markets continue to remain cautious but more stable as investors are trying to digest the results from the Italian's elections," said a report from Sucden Financial Research in London. "It seems that the optimistic comments from Bernanke overshadowed the political uncertainty of the eurozone and raised hopes about a possible rebound in the oil demand for the rest of 2013."
Investors will also be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude oil. Data for the week ending Feb. 22 are expected to show a build of 2.6 million barrels in crude oil stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
In London, Brent crude was up 18 cents at $112.89 on the ICE futures exchange.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
-- Wholesale gasoline was down 0.23 cent at $3.1965 a gallon.
-- Heating oil added 0.72 cent to $3.034 a gallon.
-- Natural gas retreated 0.2 cent to $3.436 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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