April 20, 2012 / 11:09 AM / 6 years ago

Oil rises on improved German sentiment

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Friday as improved German business sentiment countered nervousness about the euro zone debt crisis, while a weaker dollar and stronger equities also lent support.

Brent crude’s gains could not prevent a second straight weekly loss, while U.S. crude managed a 22-cent weekly gain as the expiring May contract went off the board higher, though well below its intraday peak as Wall Street pared gains.

German business sentiment rose for the sixth month in a row in April. The Munich-based Ifo think tank said its business climate index inched up from March to its highest since July 2011.

The German data helped fuel the euro’s climb to a two-week high against the dollar, and the greenback’s weakness coupled with stronger equities added lift for oil prices. <USD/> .N .EU

“People are talking about the Ifo being better than expected and may be reducing the fear about the debt crisis, and the weak dollar and higher equities help crude, along with short-covering ahead of the weekend,” said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

Brent June crude rose 76 cents to settle at $118.76 a barrel, having reached $119.69. For the week, Brent fell $3.07, or 2.52 percent and it slumped to $116.70 intraday on Wednesday, the lowest since February 10.

Expiring U.S. May crude gained 78 cents to settle at $103.05 a barrel, after rising $2 to $104.27.

U.S. June crude added $1.16 to settle at $103.88 a barrel.

Friday’s price gains came with total trading volumes still 25 percent below 30-day averages for Brent and U.S. crude, and turnover for both was under half a million lots.

Money managers raised their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions in the week to April 17, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed.

BRENT/CRUDE SPREAD

Brent’s premium to its U.S. counterpart narrowed to end at $14.88 a barrel based on June settlements, but having recovered after testing support near $13 a barrel earlier in the week.

The Brent/U.S. crude spread retreated from last week’s close at $19 after Monday’s news that Enterprise Product Partners (EPD.N) and Enbridge (ENB.TO) plan to reverse the flow of the Seaway oil pipeline by mid-May, two weeks ahead of schedule.

The reversal is intended to ease the glut in U.S. crude stockpiles in the Midwest as the pipeline brings Canadian oil and North Dakota crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

WOBBLY U.S. GASOLINE FUTURES

U.S. RBOB gasoline futures ended about a penny lower after tug-of-war trading, but they plunged 20 cents this week, a 6 percent loss that was the biggest weekly percentage drop since September.

U.S. heating oil futures ended 1.25 cents higher and narrowed the deficit to gasoline to less than a penny.

While crude oil demand in the United States continued to fall in March, gasoline consumption rose for a second consecutive month, the industry group American Petroleum Institute said on Friday.

The API’s fuel demand figure for March is higher than the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s preliminary estimate. The EIA issues its revised March number at the end of May.

Despite large drops recently in U.S. gasoline inventories, they were nearly 6 million barrels above the year-earlier level as of April 13, according to Wednesday’s weekly EIA report. <EIA/S>

CONCERNS ABOUT IRAN

Iran’s crude exports have slipped to 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd), compared with an average of 2.3 million bpd in the last Iranian year that ended on March 19, Iranian oil officials said in a report on Friday.

Tightening sanctions on Iran and the European Union’s embargo on Iranian crude purchases set for July, along with lower North Sea production, helped send Brent prices above $128 a barrel in March, the highest since 2008.

But revived talks between Iran and major powers over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, along with rising Saudi Arabian and Libyan output and signs of slower U.S. economic and employment growth, helped pull oil prices back from first-quarter peaks.

The European Union could review in the next two months an embargo on Iranian oil imports due to take effect in July, a senior EU official said.

Additional reporting by Gene Ramos in New York, Alex Lawler in London and Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Dale Hudson

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