Brent Oil Rises on Ongoing Mideast Tension, China Crude Imports

Oil extended gains in London and erased earlier losses in New York as protesters planned demonstrations in Middle Eastern oil-producing nations and after a report showed that China imported more crude.

Brent crude advanced as much as 0.9 percent as China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, increased net crude-oil imports to the highest in four months in January as demand for diesel to operate irrigation equipment in drought-stricken regions rose. Protestors plan a demonstration today in Iran, OPEC’s second- largest member, while Algerian opposition parties prepared a protest on Feb. 19 following a weekend clash with police.

“Support is coming today from China’s import data,” said Commerzbank AG analyst Carsten Fritsch wrote in a note today. “The resignation of Egypt’s president Mubarak has removed one uncertainly factor from the oil market. That said, there is still a risk that the wave of protests could spread to other countries of the region, so the risk premium on oil prices should remain, at least in part.”

Brent crude for April settlement climbed as much as 95 cents to $101.89 a barrel and was at $101.72 at 11:35 a.m. on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London. The contract rose 0.7 percent last week. March futures expired on Feb. 11, up 0.6 percent at $101.43.

West Texas Intermediate for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was at $85.60 a barrel, up 2 cents. The contract closed at $85.58 on Feb. 11, the lowest since Nov. 30.

North Sea Output

Brent has outpaced New York futures, widening the difference between the prices to a record of more than $16 a barrel, as unplanned outages cut European supplies. Production from the North Sea has been reduced by 2 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“There have been output issues in the North Sea that have continued to linger,” said Victor Shum, a senior principal at consultants Purvin & Gertz Inc. in Singapore. “Certainly the concerns about supply disruptions in Egypt have eased. The fear of contagion to other countries will keep crude supported.”

Chinese net imports reached 21.5 million metric tons, or 5.1 million barrels a day, data from the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs showed today. Imports were 27 percent higher than last year and the third-highest monthly level, according to Commerzbank.

WTI Weakness

WTI had fallen near its lowest in more than 10 weeks after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, reducing concern that civil unrest will disrupt crude shipments from the Middle East. Last week’s 3.9 percent slide sent the contract below its 100-day moving average, said Olivier Jakob, an analyst at Petromatrix GmbH in Zug, Switzerland.

“If WTI cannot regain a close above the 100-day moving average, then the next significant level of support will move to the 200-day moving average at $80.75 a barrel,” Jakob wrote in a note today.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose for a fourth week in the seven days ending Feb. 4, an Energy Department report last week showed. Gasoline supplies advanced to the highest level since March 1990, according to the data. Stockpiles at the distribution point for West Texas Intermediate in Cushing, Oklahoma, swelled to a record last month.

“The situation of oversupply at Cushing is increasing the spread between WTI and Brent,” said Gerrit Zambo, a trader at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich.

Concerns about the buildup of New York-traded WTI oil supplies led hedge funds and other money managers to leave the amount of bullish bets little changed for crude last week.

Net-long positions in oil increased by 442 futures and options combined, or 0.2 percent, to 202,383 in the seven days ended Feb. 8, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Commitment of Traders report.

Long, or bullish, bets on gasoline fell 8.3 percent to 59,913 futures and options combined, the CFTC data showed. Net- long bets on heating oil declined by 2.4 percent to 36,443.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ayesha Daya in Dubai at adaya1@bloomberg.net; Christian Schmollinger in Singapore at christian.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss on sev@bloomberg.net

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