Oil lower on profit-taking in Asia

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 26 2012 02:14 PM | Updated as of Mar 26 2012 10:14 PM

Singapore - Oil prices edged lower in Asian trade Monday as investors took profits from last week's gains, analysts said.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for delivery in May, shed 35 cents to $106.52 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May settlement was down 30 cents at $124.83 in the afternoon.

Oil had rallied late Friday in reaction to reports that exports from Iran had significantly dropped in March amid rising tensions between Tehran and the West over its controversial nuclear programme.

"There is some level of profit-taking in the market but overall prices are holding quite steady," said Tetsu Emori, fund manager at Astmax asset management in Tokyo.

There was no official word on how much Iranian crude exports may have fallen, but there were unconfirmed reports of a 14 percent drop, which was enough to hit confidence.

The International Energy Agency has previously estimated that exports from Iran could plunge by about 800,000 barrels per day to one million in the second half of the year.

Economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union have yet to dissuade Iran -- OPEC's second largest producer -- from pursuing the atomic programme, which Washington and its allies claim is aimed at building a bomb.

Tehran has insisted that the programme is solely for peaceful civilian purposes.

The United States is pushing for a tough new set of sanctions on Iran that would penalise foreign financial institutions that deal with the Islamic republic's central bank, which handles the crucial oil sales.

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