Oil Trades Near Two-Week Low on Economy and Iran Offer

Oil climbed from the lowest price in more than two weeks on forecasts that gasoline supplies are falling and employment is increasing in the U.S., the world’s biggest consumer of crude.

Futures gained as much as 0.7 percent before government data today that may show motor-fuel inventories slipped by 1.6 million barrels last week. Stockpiles decreased 2.25 million barrels, the most since November, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said yesterday. U.S. employers probably added 210,000 jobs in February after gaining 243,000 in January, according to a Bloomberg survey before a March 9 report.

“The jobs numbers are going to be pretty good, so the market might be thinking that it’s sold off too much on weak economic data,” said Jeremy Friesen, a commodity strategist for Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong which forecasts non-farm payrolls rose 275,000 last month. “We should have a really good number, and the market is starting to price it in.”

Oil for April delivery rose as much as 68 cents to $105.38 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $105.06 at 3:08 p.m. Singapore time. The contract yesterday fell $2.02 to $104.70 a barrel, the lowest close since Feb. 17. Prices are 6.4 percent higher this year.

Brent oil for April settlement increased 0.4 percent to $122.46 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The European benchmark contract’s premium to New York-traded West Texas Intermediate was at $17.38, up from $17.28 yesterday. It reached a record of $27.88 on Oct. 14.

Iran Tension

Prices rose even as Enbridge Inc. resumed service on a U.S. crude pipeline earlier than it expected. The company started one of two Illinois oil lines shut because of an accident, Lorraine Little, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based Enbridge, said in an e-mailed statement.

Oil has climbed this year amid concern European and U.S. sanctions against Iran will lead to military conflict in the Persian Gulf, home to more than half the world’s oil.

The European Union has offered to negotiate with Iran on behalf of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., after President Barack Obama called for more time to let diplomacy and sanctions solve the standoff. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said he won’t allow his nation to be threatened by an Iranian nuclear bomb.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose 4.6 million barrels last week to the highest level in more than five months, according to the American Petroleum Institute. A report from the Energy Department today may show inventories gained 1.5 million barrels, according to the median of 10 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

$110 Brent

The API collects stockpile information on a voluntary basis from operators of refineries, bulk terminals and pipelines. The government requires that reports be filed with the Energy Department for its weekly survey.

Demand in the U.S. remains weak and speculation resulting from U.S. and European sanctions on Iran has pushed prices above levels warranted by demand, Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of Facts Global Energy Inc. and a former energy adviser to the Iranian government, said in an interview in Singapore today.

“This year has been one of unprecedented supply increases in the Middle East, and demand is the weakest in 15 years excluding 2009,” said Fesharaki, who sees Brent oil falling to $110 a barrel in the next two months. “Really, the sanctions don’t work. They just create tensions in the market and push prices higher than they ought to be,” he said earlier during an interview with Bloomberg Television.

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