U.S. Crude Jumps $1 on Jobs Data, Libya Doubt

Posted by Eric Haun
Friday, April 04, 2014

Crude oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic rose on Friday as data showed strong jobs growth in the United States and investors cast doubt on reports Libya's oil ports were about to reopen.

The March U.S. non-farm payrolls report showed 192,000 jobs were added in March in major test of the argument that the economic weakness of January and February was due to bad weather.

Expectations had been building that an eight-month blockage of Libya's oil export ports would end after rebels and the government said they were close to an agreement.

The Libyan government said it had seen evidence of "good intentions" at indirect talks with eastern rebels that could lead to renewed exports.

But previous reports of the reopening of ports have proven false and investors suspect there will again be no breakthrough.

"In the oil market it is Libya that is pulling the strings," said David Hufton, managing director of London brokerage PVM Oil Associates. "High hopes of an imminent settlement with rebels in the east of the country have been punctured."

May Brent crude was up 65 cents at $106.80 a barrel by 11:09 EDT (1509 GMT). U.S. crude for May gained $1.02 to $101.31 a barrel, after earlier rising as high as $101.63. Front-month U.S. crude was set to post its first weekly loss in three weeks.

The spread between Brent and U.S. crude, also known as West Texas Intermediate or WTI, had narrowed to as low as $4.81 by mid-week as Brent lost more than $3 on hopes that Libyan oil would soon be back online. It widened to nearly $6 on Thursday before narrowing again on Friday to $5.49.

"The spread's in today by about 50 cents, which suggests that concerns about Libyan oil making its way back onto the world market place has kind of run its course, and the focus is back on Cushing oil flowing down to the Gulf Coast," said Gene McGillian, an analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

The restart of Libya's eastern oil ports could release about 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, bumping up the OPEC producer's output from around 150,000 bpd but still far from the 1.4 million bpd it produced last July.

Investors remained cautious after a breakdown in agreements between the Libyan government and rebels earlier this year.

"It first remains to be seen whether the oil terminals in the east of Libya do in fact open in the next few days." said Carsten Fritsch, senior oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

"Even if this does happen, however, it is by no means clear whether the previous export volume of 600,000 bpd can be quickly regained," he added. "It takes time for production to be ramped up and for pipelines to be filled."

(By Anna Louie Sussman; Additional reporting by Christopher Johnson in London, Florence Tan and Manolo Serapio Jr in Singapore; Editing by William Hardy, David Evans ansd Steve Orlofsky)

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