Oil Rises to 6-Week High as Ukraine Adds to Tight Market

Brent crude climbed to $110 a barrel for the first time in six weeks amid concern that the crisis in Ukraine is escalating. West Texas Intermediate advanced before weekly U.S. inventory data.

Futures gained as much as 0.8 percent in London. Ukraine began an offensive against separatists in its restive east, recapturing an airport amid claims that Russian special forces were supporting anti-government groups. U.S. gasoline inventories are predicted to have slid by 1.75 million barrels, extending seven weeks of decreases, according to a Bloomberg survey before government data.

“Oil is being driven more by the Ukraine situation,” Guy Wolf, global head of market analytics at Marex Spectron Group in London, said by e-mail. “Does this situation mean more intense disagreements elsewhere, as in the Cold War? In a tight market, such as WTI, anything can have an amplified effect.”

Brent for June settlement rose 84 cents to $110.20 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, rising above $110 for the first time since March 4. The volume of all futures traded was about 12 percent above the 100-day average. Prices fell 0.6 percent this year.

WTI for May delivery gained as much as $1.24 to $104.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest since March 3. The U.S. benchmark grade’s discount to Brent for the same month widened to $6.37 a barrel, the most since April 1 on an intraday basis.

Chinese Growth

China’s gross domestic product expanded by a seasonally adjusted 1.4 percent in the first quarter, down from 1.7 percent in the previous three months, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

China’s economy expanded at the weakest pace in six quarters as risks mount that Premier Li Keqiang will miss his government’s annual growth target of 7.5 percent. GDP advanced by 7.4 percent in the January-to-March period from a year earlier, compared with a 7.3 percent median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

“The headline GDP data wasn’t good,” Sijin Cheng, a commodities analyst at Barclays Plc in Singapore, said by phone today. “Also, the market has been preoccupied by all the geopolitics, the tensions. Given that context, the reaction has been relatively muted.”

The Asian nation, the world’s second-biggest oil consumer, will account for about 11 percent of global demand this year, compared with 21 percent for the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Dismissing Macro

“Oil prices have been quick to dismiss macroeconomics lately,” Michael Poulsen, an analyst at Global Risk Management in Middelfart, Denmark, said by e-mail. “The tensions in Ukraine are the main driver for oil prices at the moment.”

Ukraine’s offensive yesterday marked its first foray against armed activists holding government buildings in cities near the Russian border. Interior Ministry units ousted pro-Russian activists who had seized the airfield in Kramatorsk. Efforts to contain the insurgency risk escalating tensions with the government in Moscow, which warned of a potential civil war.

Russia has massed 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border after annexing Crimea last month, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said.

Oil Stockpiles

Crude inventories in the U.S. are forecast to have increased for the 12th time in 13 weeks, a Bloomberg survey shows before a report from the Energy Information Administration today.

Stockpiles probably rose by 1.75 million barrels to about 385.9 million in the seven days ended April 11, according to the median projection of 10 analysts. Supplies climbed by 7.64 million barrels, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said in Washington yesterday.

Distillate supplies, including heating oil and diesel, were probably unchanged after rising in the prior three weeks to 113.2 million.

In Libya, a tanker docked at Hariga port as the eastern region prepared to export crude for the first time since July. The Aegean Dignity arrived yesterday and was set to start loading 1 million barrels, according to Mohamed Elharari, a spokesman at state-run National Oil Corp.

Hariga is one of four terminals seized last year by rebels seeking self-rule. Civil unrest has decimated production and shipments from Libya, the holder of Africa’s largest crude reserves and a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

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