Crude-oil futures mixed in Asian trading; U.S. stockpiles, Iran nuclear talks in focus

Crude-oil futures were mixed in Asian trading Wednesday, as investors weighed expectations of a rise in U.S. inventories with encouraging statements from the Federal Reserve chairman.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in April traded at $92.78 a barrel at 0643 GMT, up $0.15 in the Globex electronic session. April Brent crude on London’s ICE Futures exchange fell $0.07 to $112.64 a barrel. The WTI-Brent spread stood at $19.86 a barrel–the narrowest level since Feb. 6.

Nymex crude settled at the lowest level so far this year on Tuesday, as broader investor sentiment worsened in part due to concerns that Italy’s election could worsen the euro-zone debt crisis. But in early trading Wednesday, indications that the U.S. Federal Reserve will continue its bond-buying programs boosted regional shares and triggered fresh buying in crude oil.

“We are confident that the commodities markets will resume their recovery following this brief breather,” said analysts at Commerzbank. They noted, however, that “in view of the negative market sentiment, prices are likely to remain under pressure for the time being.”

Investors will turn to weekly U.S. oil stockpiles data due later Wednesday for clues about demand in the world’s biggest economy. Stockpiles rose more than expected in the previous week to historically high levels.

According to estimates from 12 analysts surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires, U.S. crude-oil inventories rose by 2.5 million barrels in the week ended Friday. The closely watched government survey from the Energy Information Administration is due at 1530 GMT.

Market participants are also awaiting news from meetings between Iran and world powers in Kazakhstan this week over the Middle East country’s nuclear program. With its economy struggling due to international sanctions, Iran faces mounting pressure to make concession, which could see sanctions being eased and bring more Iranian crude onto global markets.

China, one of the biggest buyers of Iranian crude, cut its imports from the Middle East producer in January by 37% from a year earlier to 311,000 barrels a day–the lowest level since March last year. The meeting marks the first such talks in eight months.

Nymex reformulated gasoline blendstock for March–the benchmark gasoline contract–rose 13 points to $2.9829 a gallon, while March heating oil traded at $3.0359, 42 points higher.

ICE gasoil for March changed hands at $953.25 a metric ton, down $3.50 from Tuesday’s settlement.

By The Wall Street Journal


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