Western powers agreed on Monday to expand sanctions against Russia
over its actions in Ukraine by putting more people under asset
freezes and visa bans as violence escalated in Ukraine.
Brent prices rose by nearly $2 after the Pentagon announced a
Russian fighter aircraft made repeated low-altitude, close-range
passes near a U.S. ship in the Black Sea over the weekend.
In Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists continued to occupy government
buildings in the eastern part of the country while another group of
rebels attacked a police headquarters as a military offensive
threatened by the interim president in Kiev failed to materialize.
The United States said it was prepared to step up sanctions against
Russia, a major exporter of crude oil to Europe and Asia, if the
separatist action continued.
U.S. retail sales logged their biggest gain in 1-1/2 years in March,
the latest sign the economy is accelerating after its
weather-induced winter slumber, lending support to U.S. crude oil
Limiting gains across the global oil complex was the gradual
reopening of several Libyan oil ports that had been blockaded by
protesting rebel groups since last July.
"The geopolitical tensions are underlying the support in both Brent
and U.S. crude," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil
Associates in Texas. Lipow said Libyan exports could threaten
prices, but "the general market feeling is 'show me the oil' before
we believe progress is being made."
Brent crude settled up $1.74 at $109.07 a barrel, pushing above its
50-, 100- and 200-day averages at $108.04, $108.54 and $108.96 a
barrel. U.S. oil settled up 31 cents at $104.05 a barrel, but turned
negative in post- settlement trading as equity markets gave up
Brent's premium over U.S. crude oil, which on Friday narrowed to
$3.28, its tightest point since Sept. 20, widened out to $5.34 on
In Libya, the western Zawiya oil port was operating normally after
protesters vacated the entrance to the facility and the adjoining
refinery reopened, developments that had briefly pushed oil into
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However, the eastern Zueitina oil port was still not under
government control one week after an agreement with rebel groups to
reopen it along with the Hariga terminal.
An almost complete cut in Libyan supply from around 1.4 million
barrels per day under the previous government has underpinned prices
for nearly 10 months, but the port reopenings could enable a
substantial recovery in exports.
"I remain skeptical until I actually see tankers loading and
production figures increasing," said Lipow.
In Nigeria, a bomb exploded at a crowded bus station on the
outskirts of Abuja and killed 71 people during rush hour on Monday
morning, raising concerns about the spread of an Islamist
It was the first attack near the Nigerian capital for two years, and
led to increased worries about oil supply disruption.
Investors awaited fresh economic growth data from China, the world's
second-biggest oil consumer.
In a Reuters poll, economists forecast that growth slowed to 7.3
percent in the first quarter from 7.7 percent in the final quarter
of 2013. This would be the slowest pace of growth in five years and
near the minimum needed to ensure stable employment.
(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons and Edward McAllister in New
York, Simon Falush in London and Keith Wallace in Singapore; editing
by David Evans, Peter Galloway, Tom Brown and Jonathan Oatis)
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