"You've got seasonal demand spiced with a little bit of geopolitical
headlines," said Stephen Schork, editor of The Schork Report, in
U.S. crude for May delivery rose by $1.02 to settle at $101.28 a
barrel, following a $1.07 rise in the previous session. It is up
nearly two percent for the week, and has risen in six of the last
U.S. crude's gains gave a lift to Brent, which also drew support
from worries that possible Western sanctions on Russia's energy
sector could disrupt global supplies.
Brent for May delivery gained 80 cents to settle at $107.83 a
barrel, narrowing the spread between the two benchmarks <CL-LCO1=R>
to $6.55 by 22 cents, after the premium hit a session low of $6.00,
its tightest since March 7.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives easily passed bills to
provide aid to Ukraine, back a $1 billion loan guarantee for the
Kiev government and impose sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians over
Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The United States and the European Union agreed on Wednesday to work
together on preparing possible further economic sanctions in
response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and to make Europe less
dependent on Russian gas.
The U.S. economy grew a bit faster than previously estimated in the
fourth quarter, data showed, while the number of Americans filing
new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week and
touched its lowest level in nearly four months.
U.S. crude, or West Texas Intermediate (WTI), continued its upward
trend following Wednesday's data showing a further drain in oil
inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point for the NYMEX
contract, which hit their lowest level since January 2012.
[to top of second column]
That oil is piling up along the U.S. Gulf Coast, home to nearly half
of the nation's refinery capacity, where maintenance season is
coming to its close and refineries are preparing to churn out
"We know runs are about to increase significantly," said Andy Lebow,
vice president at Jefferies Bache in New York.
Low supply out of Libya and Nigeria lent further support to Brent.
Oil theft is likely to push Nigeria off its spot as top African
crude oil exporter in May, when exports could fall to their lowest
since records began in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Simon Falush in London, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
in Singapore; editing by Jane Baird, William Hardy, David Gregorio
and Marguerita Choy)
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