(Bloomberg) -- Oil edged lower with an increase in U.S. crude stockpiles for the first time since December pointing to the near-term obstacles still facing the market as it recovers from the pandemic.Futures were down about 1% in New York on Friday. A U.S. government report showed domestic crude inventories increased by 4.35 million barrels last week, while distillate supplies also rose. Gasoline stockpiles decreased and a gauge of demand for the fuel ticked higher, helping to limit crude’s slide.“This is clearly a bearish number short-term,” said Quinn Kiley, a portfolio manager at Tortoise, a firm that manages roughly $8 billion in energy-related assets. But the data “suggest demand has recovered a lot more than maybe people would have noticed.”A stronger dollar on Friday has also reduced the appeal of commodities priced in the currency.Crude futures in New York have struggled to advance far beyond $50 a barrel this month amid signals that the recovery in demand is struggling to gain traction as governments toughen measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Parts of Hong Kong are locking down and the U.K. prime minister is signaling restrictions may last for months.“The pandemic spread and the broader lockdown in China is making people nervous,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “The possibility that you could see this more contagious mutation causing a bigger lockdown, especially in China, that could have a significant impact on oil demand.”Yet, crude’s market structure has remained firm this week, with key timespreads for both West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude trading in a structure indicating supply tightness. The nearest contract for WTI futures is trading at a premium to the following month, with the Energy Information Administration report showing stockpiles at the nation’s largest storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, fell the most since May. Brent’s nearest timespread is also trading in a so-called backwardation structure.Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said the Biden administration’s initial steps -- including a suspension of the sale of oil and gas leases on federal land, a focus on fiscal spending and a likely delay in lifting sanctions on Iran --- may help tighten the oil market this year and next, according to a note. A speedier vaccine rollout could also boost jet-fuel demand, it said.Refineries processed the most crude last week since March, when fuel demand weakened early on in the pandemic. Processing a barrel of crude has become more profitable in recent months, with the combined refining margin for gasoline and diesel near $13 a barrel after struggling to hold above $10 a barrel during parts of the summer and fall of last year.Iran, meanwhile, has started ramping up its oil production and expects to reach pre-sanctions levels in one to two months, according to Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia. The market will be able to accommodate the country’s maximum output of around 3.9 million to 4 million barrels a day, he said. But risks for any buyer remain as long as U.S. sanctions are in place.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.