Oil steadied near $77 a barrel within sight of a record high, supported by a surprise drop in US petrol stocks and heightened supply concerns in Africa.

The market leapt yesterday after US inventory data showed refineries running harder and failing to build up fuel stocks. A cut in supply from Angola, OPEC's newest member, added further support.

London Brent crude was up 1 cent at $76.77 late this afternoon.

On Monday it rose to within 25 cents of last August's $78.65 all-time high and some expect prices to head towards that peak again.

US crude was down 25 cents at $74.80 a barrel after a $1.03 jump on Wednesday.

Wednesday's U.S. inventory report showed robust consumption and slower imports drained gasoline inventories by 2.3 million barrels in the week to July 13, versus expectations of a 900,000-barrel rise.

A supply loss in Angola also bolstered prices. A technical problem prompted Total to shut half of the output at its 220,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Dalia oilfield in Angola.