Oil mixed in Asian trade

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 15 2012 03:19 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2012 11:20 PM

SINGAPORE  - Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Thursday, as investors weighed concerns over a supply disruption in the Middle East and a surge in US crude stockpiles, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April was up 38 cents to $105.81 while Brent North Sea crude for April delivery shed four cents to $124.93 in the afternoon.

"Crude prices have broadly stalled, albeit at relatively high levels," said Sanjeev Gupta, head of the Asia-Pacific oil and gas practice at financial services firm Ernst & Young.

"Supply concerns are keeping prices elevated, but concerns are rising that high prices will undermine potential demand growth," he said in a commentary.

Figures released Wednesday by the US Department of Energy (DoE) showed crude stocks were at a nine-month high after rising 2.5 million barrels last week. A rise in crude inventory is seen as a sign of weakening demand.

The DoE in the weekly report said total products supplied to the market over the past four weeks were down 5.4 percent from a year ago, with unseasonably warm weather continuing across much of the country.

Meanwhile, continued tensions between crude producer Iran and the West remain a key concern for traders, analysts said.

Iran on Wednesday condemned what it said was the use of oil as a political tool against producers, referring to Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.

Tehran has repeatedly said its nuclear activities are exclusively peaceful.

"Exerting unilateral economic constraints... is a threat which jeopardises free trade and the continuity of oil supply in the world," Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said at an energy conference in Kuwait.

Qasemi's comments came as the International Energy Agency forecast (IEA) that Iranian oil exports will fall by 800,000 barrels per day after mid-2012.

The IEA said Iran's exports would decline to around one million bpd, while global demand for oil grows by 800,000 bpd to 89.9 million bpd.

The United States and the European Union have in the past four months ramped up economic sanctions on Iran in a bid to force it to suspend uranium enrichment, the most sensitive part of its nuclear programme.

Iran had warned in December that it would blockade the strategic Strait of Hormuz -- a key transit route for global oil supply -- if the West imposes further punitive measures.

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