By Alex Lawler

LONDON (Reuters) -Oil steadied on Thursday in volatile trade after posting the biggest two-day loss for the start of a year in three decades with the shutdown of a U.S. fuel pipeline providing support and economic concerns capping gains.

Big declines in the previous two days were driven by worries about a global recession, especially since short-term economic signs in the world’s two biggest oil consumers, the United States and China, looked weak.

Helping drive gains early on Thursday was a statement from top U.S. pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline, which said its Line 3 had been shut for unscheduled maintenance with a restart expected on Jan. 7.

Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM said the rebound was due to the pipeline shutdown and added: “There is no doubt that the prevailing trend is down; it is a bear market.”

Brent crude was up 60 cents, or 0.8%, to $78.44 a barrel at 1435 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 26 cents, or 0.4%, to $72.58. Both contracts were up over $2 earlier.

Both benchmarks’ cumulative declines of more than 9% on Tuesday and Wednesday were the biggest two-day losses at the start of a year since 1991, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Reflecting near-term bearishness, the nearby contracts of the two benchmarks traded at a discount to the next month, a structure known as contango.

On Wednesday, figures showing U.S. manufacturing contracted further in December pressured prices, as did concerns about economic disruption as COVID-19 works its way through China, which has abruptly dropped strict curbs on travel and activity.

“China’s pandemic and reopening challenges weigh on the market mood and put the bull thesis of a demand rebound under scrutiny,” said Norbert Rücker, analyst at Swiss private bank Julius Baer.

Also weighing were inventory figures from the American Petroleum Institute, which according to market sources showed a rise in U.S. crude and gasoline stocks.

Official inventory data from the Energy Information Administration is out at 1530 GMT.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly and Jeslyn Lerh; Editing by Mark Potter, Elaine Hardcastle and David Evans)