Oil surges 5 percent as bears take profits, seeing $60 floor

Fri Dec 19, 2014 5:18pm EST
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By Barani Krishnan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil closed up as much as 5 percent on Friday, its biggest gain in over two years, as some traders took profits on short positions after prices this week hit their lowest since 2009.

A sharp bout of short-covering prior to expiry of the U.S. January crude oil contract alleviated pressure in a market dominated by sellers the past six months and lighter-than-usual pre-holiday volume exaggerated the rise on a day that otherwise lacked much in the way of headline news.

While some traders may be betting that $60 a barrel Brent represents a likely floor for the market, others remain unconvinced. With uncertainty high, demand for options has surged this week, with the CBOE crude oil volatility index soaring to its highest since 2011.

"This is a surprisingly forceful run up as fundamentally nothing's changed in this market in terms of supply-demand," said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

"I think the switch in WTI's front-month and the second short-covering act for the week kind of got overblown."

Brent's front-month settled up $2.11, or 3.4 percent, at $61.38 a barrel, after closing twice this week below the psychologically key level of $60, and continued to rise as high as $62.66 in post-settlement trade.

WTI's front-month crude settled up $2.41 at $56.52 a barrel, ending the day on an unusually strong note at just 39 cents off the intra-day peak. On average this month, the U.S. crude contract has settled at nearly $1.80 below the day's peak, according to data analyzed by Reuters.

The closing gain of 4.5 percent was the largest since August 2012, and came after a similar intraday surge in WTI two days ago. But WTI still ended the week 2 percent lower, extending a rout that has nearly halved prices since June.   Continued...

An employee of state-owned Pertamina refuels a motorcycle at its petrol station in Jakarta, December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Pius Erlangga