* U.S. crude inventories down by 7.4 million barrels -API
* U.S. car sales hit record 17.55 million in 2016
By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Oil prices were firm on Thursday, buoyed by data showing a fall in U.S. crude inventories and by record car sales in the United States.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were trading at $53.26 per barrel at 0024 GMT, unchanged from their settlement on Wednesday, when prices rose around 2 percent.
International Brent crude oil futures were yet to trade.
Traders said that WTI had been lifted by a report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) stating that U.S. crude inventories fell 7.4 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 30 to 482.7 million, compared with analyst expectations for a decrease of 2.2 million barrels.
“We expect Asia to trade on the positive-side today, supported by the API number,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA brokerage in Singapore.
Prices were also lifted by U.S. car and truck sales, which were up 3.1 percent in December from the same month last year, and hit a record 17.55 million overall in 2016.
A fall in the dollar away from a 14-year peak hit earlier this week also supported Brent futures, traders said, as a cheaper greenback makes dollar-traded fuel purchases cheaper for countries using other currencies at home.
Swings in the dollar also impact crude as financial speculators weigh the differing profit potentials of foreign exchange and commodity futures. (Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)