U.S. crude oil also rose, though not by as much, with gains curbed
by large domestic supply builds and lower demand in the U.S. and
China, the largest and second-largest oil consumers.
Traders covered short positions ahead of the vote being held on
Sunday by pro-Moscow authorities is to determine if Crimea will join
Russia, analysts said.
Moscow shipped more troops and armor into Crimea on Friday as the
European Union prepared to impose travel bans and freeze the assets
of dozens of Russians involved in Russia's gradual takeover of
Crimea on Monday.
The conflict has underpinned global oil markets as traders worry it
will lead to a disruption of oil supplies from Russia, one of the
world's biggest oil producers.
"The referendum this weekend is raising the geopolitical risk
premium and people who have been short are looking to scrape profits
out of the weekend," said Gene McGillian, analyst at consulting firm
Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
The Brent crude oil contract for April delivery, which expired
Friday, settled $1.18 higher at $108.57. The May contract, which
will become the front month contract on Monday, settled $1.29 higher
Despite Friday's rally, Brent ended lower for the third straight
U.S. crude settled 69 cents higher at $98.89 a barrel, but closed
for the week at its lowest point since the end of January.
The Brent-WTI spread <CL-LCO1=R> again touched wider than $10 on
Friday and on Wednesday, a range it has not traded in since Jan. 29.
The spread was not able to hold and settled 49 cents wider Friday at
Production at Libya's 340,000 barrels per day El Sharara oilfield
halted due to protests less than a week after it reopened, also
lending Brent support.
The International Energy Agency said on Friday a surge in supply
from Iraq and other oil producers should be more than sufficient to
meet growing demand this year.
[to top of second column]
The IEA said Iraq's oil output rose by 530,000 barrels per day in
February to 3.62 million bpd, the highest since 1979.
Slowing Chinese economic growth has raised concerns about oil
demand in the world's second largest consumer.
Solid U.S. retail sales and labor market data this week raised some
optimism about the global economy.
Still, U.S. crude lost nearly 4 percent this week in its steepest
fall since early January, after the U.S. government surprised
markets on Wednesday by announcing a test release of 5 million
barrels from its strategic petroleum reserve.
Weekly inventory data also showed domestic crude oil stockpiles rose
by three times as much as analysts expected.
Given the poor fundamental outlook in the week to Tuesday, money
managers cut their net long U.S. crude futures and options
positions, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) data
(Additional reporting by Jacob
Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore; editing by William Hardy, Keiron
Henderson, Tom Brown and Amanda Kwan)
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