NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude futures settled lower Wednesday as U.S. oil inventories continued to rise.

Light, sweet crude for October delivery settled 62 cents, or 0.9%, lower, at $71.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange settled 17 cents, or 0.2%, lower, at $71.65 a barrel.

A return to the 10-month high of $75 a barrel hit Tuesday looked increasingly remote after the Department of Energy reported a 100,000-barrel increase in U.S. oil inventories. Inventories are about 15% higher than they were a year ago, while demand was down 0.9% in the four weeks ended Aug. 21, the department's Energy Information Administration said. Analysts had given an average forecast for a 600,000-barrel drop, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey.

Expectations of an even bigger increase - fed by the American Petroleum Institute's report Tuesday of a 4.3-million-barrel build - prevented the bottom from dropping out of the market, traders said.

Fuel inventories are in even worse shape, with stockpiles of gasoline and distillate, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, well above average for this time of year. Gasoline inventories fell 1.7 million barrels last week, more than analysts expected, while distillate stocks rose by 800,000 barrels, topping forecasts.

"Given the supply situation, I can't see prices being able to pull away from the range we've been trading at," said Matt Zeman, president of trading at LaSalle Futures Group in Chicago. "Temporarily, the highs are probably in."

Only the prospect of an economic recovery boosting demand in the future has held prices roughly between $65 and $75 a barrel over the last two months. Equities, viewed as a key forward-looking indicator in the oil market, remain near a 2009 high in the U.S., though share indexes were flat Wednesday.

With the U.S., Europe and Japan likely in for a gradual recovery, crude traders are banking on China's rapidly growing oil consumption to make up the current gap between supply and demand.

"The resurgence in Asia looks likely to be central in mopping up global surpluses and returning the market to a more even keel," wrote analysts with Barclays Capital.

Front-month September reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled 2.44 cents, or 1.2%, lower, at $1.9826 a gallon. September heating oil settled 39 points, or 0.2%, lower, at $1.8520 a gallon.

More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:

Nymex Light Crude Oil Close
Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close
Nymex Heating Oil Close
ICE Brent Crude Oil Close
ICE Gas Oil Close

-By Brian Baskin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2453; brian.baskin@dowjones.com