Sun, Jun 24, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Crude rises on jitters over Iran, Nigeria

SUPPLY WOES Analysts said traders long ago built a Nigerian violence premium into oil prices, and are taking a wait-and-see approach to the current general strike


Oil settled back above US$69 a barrel and gasoline futures also rose on Friday on concerns about Iran's nuclear capabilities and on news that talks to end a general strike in Nigeria had failed.

The market has been fixated on US domestic supply concerns, but a lack of news from the US shifted traders' focus to international developments. The news about Iran and Nigeria sent light, sweet crude for August delivery up US$0.49 to settle at US$69.14 a barrel (159 liters) on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and gasoline for July was up US$0.0401 to settle at US$2.2868 a gallon (3.8 liters). August Brent crude rose US$0.96 to settle at US$71.18 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other NYMEX trading, heating oil futures for July rose US$0.0133 to settle at US$2.038 a gallon while natural gas prices fell US$0.218 to US$7.13 per 1,000 cubic feet (28 cubic meters). A government report on Thursday showed natural gas supplies rose by 2.5 billion cubic meters in the week ended June 15, in line with expectations.

Traders began buying after Iran's interior minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, said his country had 100kg of enriched uranium. Investors' concern is that the West will at some point take action, military or economic, against Iran, which could disrupt oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.

"The market really started taking off from there," said Jack Hunter, an energy trader at FC Stone Group in Kansas City, Missouri.

In Nigeria, talks on Friday night between union leaders and the government failed to produce an agreement, sending Africa's largest oil-producing nation into a third day of a general strike. Strikers want the government to drop a 15 percent increase in gasoline prices, which the government subsidizes.

Later on Friday, labor leaders said the two sides continued to talk and could resolve the strike by tomorrow.

So far, the unions have failed in their threat to shut down Nigeria's oil industry.

"We don't see production being affected yet," said Michael Cohen, an industry economist at the US Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Nigerian oil supplies won't be affected unless the strike lasts at least a week, Cohen said, and even that is uncertain.

Still, geopolitical events that could affect supplies tend to make traders jittery, sending prices higher, analysts said.

Nigeria, which has proven oil reserves of 36.2 million barrels, according to the EIA, has been beset by political violence since December 2005 often targeting its oil infrastructure. The EIA estimates the violence has halted the production of about 587,000 barrels per day of the 2.28 million barrels of crude oil Nigeria produced each day last year. Nigeria is the third-biggest overseas supplier of oil to the US.

Analysts think traders long ago built a Nigerian violence premium into oil prices, and are taking a wait-and-see approach to the strike.

"There's historical precedent that these strikes don't last very long," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, an oil trading advisory firm in Galena, Illinois.

The EIA's report on Wednesday that showed crude inventories jumped by 6.9 million barrels in the week ended June 15 lent some support to prices. Analysts had expected crude stocks to drop by 150,000 barrels. Gasoline inventories rose by 1.8 million barrels, more than the 1 million-barrel increase expected.

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