Oil Rises to Nine-Month High as Iran Bars Nuclear Inspectors From Base

Oil rose to a nine-month high as International Atomic Energy Agency officials were denied access to an Iranian military base and said negotiations over the country’s nuclear program “couldn’t finalize a way forward.”

Futures climbed for a fifth day after the IAEA, the United Nations’ nuclear body, said Iran, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, refused inspectors permission to visit the Parchin base during two days of talks that ended yesterday. Crude fell 0.6 percent earlier on reports that manufacturing activity slowed in Europe and China, signs fuel demand may decline.

“We’re just watching the Iranian story play out,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “What occurs in the market will depend on the developments there.”

Crude for April delivery increased 3 cents to $106.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since May 4. Futures have gained 14 percent in the past year.

Prices fell after the American Petroleum Institute reported oil inventories rose 3.55 million barrels to a four-month high of 341.4 million last week. The April contract dropped 23 cents to $106.02 a barrel at 4:32 p.m. in electronic trading.

Brent oil for April settlement climbed $1.24, or 1 percent, to end the session at $122.90 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. It was the highest close since May 2.

The European benchmark settled at a $16.62-a-barrel premium to New York-traded West Texas Intermediate oil. The spread was $1.21 wider than yesterday.

All Options

Israel and the U.S. have said all options are on the table in ensuring the Persian Gulf nation doesn’t acquire atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for energy.

An Iranian general, Mohammad Hejazi, said his nation would consider pre-emptive action when threatened, Fars news agency reported yesterday.

Speculation that oil supplies will be disrupted has increased as tension between Iran and Western nations escalates, David Greely, head of energy research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York, said in a report today. The bank maintained a recommendation that investors buy Brent contracts for July 2012 to take advantage of rising prices.

Iran said earlier this week that it stopped selling crude to France and Britain in a move designed to pre-empt European sanctions. The European Union on Jan. 23 agreed to ban crude imports from Iran starting July 1 to pressure the country over its nuclear program.

Biggest Driver

“The biggest driver of the market recently has been fear about Iran,” said Tom Bentz, a director with BNP Paribas Prime Brokerage Inc. in New York. “There’s anxiety about what the latest sanctions will mean and what retaliation will take place. All of this keeps prices inflated.”

Iran pumped 3.55 million barrels a day of oil in January, according to a Bloomberg News survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. Its output trailed only Saudi Arabia among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Oil prices in New York dipped in intraday trading after a reports showed European services and manufacturing output unexpectedly shrank in February and China’s manufacturing may fall for a fourth month.

A euro-area composite index based on a survey of purchasing managers in the services and manufacturing industries dropped to 49.7 from 50.4 in January, London-based Markit Economics said in an initial estimate today. Economists in a Bloomberg News survey had forecast a reading of 50.5.

Chinese Manufacturing

China’s manufacturing also may decline in February, according to the preliminary 49.7 reading of an index from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics. It would be the fourth month factory activity decreases in China as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis damps exports and the housing market cools. Readings below 50 point to a contraction.

“We didn’t get rosy economic data,” said Gene McGillian, an analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. “We’re still well above $105 and the bullish factors that got us here are still there. The geopolitical tensions with Iran continue to simmer.”

Purchases of previously owned homes in the U.S. climbed less than forecast in January, rising 4.3 percent to a 4.57 million annual rate, a report from National Association of Realtors showed. The median forecast of 74 economists in a Bloomberg News survey called for existing-home sales called for a rise to 4.66 million.

Greek Bailout

Agreement on a second bailout for Greece may not be enough to end Europe’s debt crisis and countries in the euro-area periphery must reduce debt and improve competitiveness, Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean said in a speech yesterday in Glasgow, Scotland.

An Energy Department report tomorrow will probably show that U.S. crude supplies rose 1.35 million barrels, or 0.4 percent, to 340.4 million in the seven days ended Feb. 17, according to the median of 10 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The addition would leave supplies at the highest level since the week ended Sept. 23.

Electronic trading volume on the Nymex was 514,792 contracts as of 4:33 p.m. in New York. Volume totaled 723,166 contracts yesterday, 22 percent above the three-month average. Open interest was 1.44 million contracts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Shenk in New York at mshenk1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Banker at bbanker@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.