Oil Approaches $100 in New York on Fed Stimulus, Mideast Unrest

Oil rose to the highest level in four months on speculation that economic stimulus in the U.S. will boost fuel demand, and concern that unrest in the Middle East and North Africa may threaten supplies.

Futures advanced as much as 1.5 percent, erasing their decline for the year. The Federal Reserve said yesterday it will make open-ended purchases of $40 billion a month of mortgage debt to boost the economy. Protesters attempted to storm the U.S. embassy in Yemen and demonstrators marched in Egypt and Iran this week against a film seen as insulting to Islam. Iran is raising tension by expanding its nuclear program, according to the U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Sentiment is upbeat as we’re a little clearer on what the Fed and European Central Bank will do to revive the economy,” said Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital in London, who predicts further gains for oil will be limited. “But crude is really struggling to post large gains since at these prices demand concerns are still there.”

Crude for October delivery climbed as much as $1.44 to $99.75 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was at $99.38 at 9:15 a.m. London time. The contract yesterday increased 1.3 percent to $98.31, the highest close since May 4. Prices are up 3.1 percent this week, set for the sixth gain in seven weeks.

Brent oil for November settlement on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange rose as much as $1.23, or 1.1 percent, to $117.11 a barrel, the highest since May 2. The front-month price for the European benchmark crude was at a $17.35 premium to New York-traded West Texas Intermediate grade.

Geopolitical Concerns

The Fed said it will continue buying assets and employ other policy tools as appropriate “if the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially.”

“We always have initial optimism on stimulus programs -- the question is, how long it will last?” said Jonathan Barratt, the chief executive officer of Barratt’s Bulletin, a commodity newsletter in Sydney. “Middle East geopolitical concerns should add a premium of about $5 to $6.”

Demonstrators in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, breached the U.S. embassy compound’s security perimeter and set two cars ablaze yesterday, according to Yousef Al-Ahjan, who joined the rally. One protester was killed and five injured, Al Arabiya television reported.

Al-Qaeda Links

At least 216 people in Egypt were injured in a third day of clashes near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, said Ahmed el-Ansari, vice-president of the Egyptian Ambulance Organization. There were also demonstrations outside the Swiss mission in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

The violence in the Middle East and North Africa, which hold more than half of the world’s oil reserves, was prompted by extracts of a film that portrays Muhammad. For Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is sacrilegious. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three officials were killed during an attack on consular buildings in Benghazi on Sept. 11. U.S. lawmakers said groups tied to al-Qaeda may have been involved.

Iran’s decision to double the number of installed centrifuges, the fast-spinning machines that enrich uranium, at its Fordo site is provocative, Robert Wood said in prepared remarks in Vienna yesterday. While the U.S. and Israel suspect Iran is hiding nuclear-weapons work, the Persian Gulf nation says its program is peaceful.

The dollar extended losses for a fourth day against the euro, boosting investor’s demand for commodities denominated in the U.S. currency. It slid to $1.3024 versus the common currency, the weakest since May.

The 14-day relative strength index has risen above 68, the highest since Aug. 22. A reading above 70 will show prices have climbed too quickly for further gains to be sustained.

Futures may decline next week on speculation U.S. crude and fuel inventories will increase as production in the Gulf of Mexico continues its recovery from Hurricane Isaac, a Bloomberg News survey showed. Nineteen of 36 analysts and traders, or 53 percent, predict oil will drop through Sept. 21.

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