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Brent crude oil passes $40 mark

Nathan Bomey

Oil prices continued an uptick that's several weeks in the making, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, rising above $40 amid signs that inventory buildup rates may be ebbing.

The price of Brent closed up 5.5% to $40.84 on Monday, while the price of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, also rose 5.5% to close at $37.90.

The increases came after market-research firm Genscape reportedly said that the weekly increase in oil stockpiles at the Cushing, Okla., hub fell last week from an elevated level of more than 1 million barrels a week earlier.

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The driving force for oil's rise — the commodity fell below $30 a barrel earlier this year — may also include "seasonal sentiment" and hopes of an output freeze at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said in an email.

But none of these factors changes the fact that oil inventories are extremely high, which is likely to keep petroleum prices at historically low levels for much of 2016.

"There’s little tangible evidence that could be lent to the most recent rally, but as the focus shifts to OPEC, summer driving season and other such 'seasonal sentiment,' there’s more upward than downward movement in oil likely," DeHaan said.

Capital Economics analysts said Thursday: "Exceptionally high stocks and the potential for a rebound in U.S. production means that we think that the oil market is likely to remain well supplied out to 2020, especially if there is a partial recovery in prices over the next two years."

DeHaan said he expects gasoline prices to rise anywhere from 35 cents to 70 cents per gallon from their winter lows to their peak in the spring or summer, depending on refinery maintenance schedules and other factors.

The price of gas typically increases in the lead-up to the summer driving season as demand increases.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.