By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Wednesday despite data showing rising U.S. inventories, holding within sight of three-year highs reached the previous day on geopolitical tensions including the prospect of fresh sanctions on Iran.
French President Emmanuel Macron forcefully challenged many of the U.S. president's policies during a visit to Washington, saying an international nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump has harshly criticized, was not perfect but must remain in place until a replacement is forged. Trump will decide by May 12 whether to restore U.S. sanctions on Tehran, which could be a first step to ending the deal.
The market was also supported by concerns around oil output from Venezuela. U.S. oil major Chevron Corp <CVX.N> has evacuated executives from Venezuela after two of its workers were imprisoned over a contract dispute with state-owned oil company PDVSA, according to four sources familiar with the matter.
"The geopolitical risk in the market has a pretty high premium," said Gene McGillian, vice president of research at Tradition Energy. "Even with this week's Department of Energy numbers it hasn't shaken any of the confidence that the global supply and demand balance continue to tighten."
Brent crude <LCOc1> settled 14 cents higher at $74.00 a barrel, below the November 2014 intraday high of $75.47 reached on Tuesday. U.S. crude futures <CLc1> ended up 35 cents at $68.05 a barrel.
The market rebounded quickly from a dip after bearish U.S. inventory data because the build was not as large as it could have been, given the jump in exports, McGillian said.
Crude inventories <USOILC=ECI> rose 2.2 million barrels last week, compared with expectations for a 2 million-barrel draw. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub <USOICC=ECI> rose 459,000 barrels, EIA said.
A rise in U.S. government borrowing costs to their highest since 2013 this week has tempered some investor appetite for risk, but analysts said Brent crude futures, the global benchmark, may yet rise towards new 2018 peaks above $75 a barrel.
Supplier cutbacks, steady demand growth, geopolitical tensions and a favourable structure in the futures market have attracted record investment in oil this year.
Money managers hold record positions in Brent crude futures and options, lured by the hefty premium of the front-month June contract over subsequent months that makes it profitable to invest in crude over the longer term.
"The prospect of a downside correction in prices is lost on the speculative fraternity. In fact, financial players have rarely felt more optimistic. Bets on rising crude prices are close to a near-record high," PVM Oil Associates strategist Stephen Brennock said.
"However, given the already vast holdings of long positions in oil, there are doubts over the scope for further inflows."
The forward curve for Brent <0#LCO:> is now above $70 until the end of 2018, and prices are above $60 through 2020.
But the rise in U.S. Treasury yields above 3 percent has driven the dollar <.DXY> to three-month highs, making oil more expensive for buyers using other currencies. This might eventually pressure crude prices, even though oil and the dollar have moved in tandem for a few weeks.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Editing by Dale Hudson and Marguerita Choy)