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Oil gains, focus on Egypt, US jobs

Singapore, February 4, 2011

Crude oil futures rose on Friday as Egypt's volatile situation kept markets on edge, and ahead of US employment data due later in the day.

US crude was 16 cents up at $90.70 a barrel by 1109 GMT. Brent crude for March rose by 20 cents t0 $101.95 a barrel, after touching $103.37 on Thursday, the highest intraday price since September 26, 2008.

Analysts said that oil prices were likely to remain strong while the protests continue.

Egyptians fighting to oust president Hosni Mubarak hoped to rally a million people on Friday, and the United States worked to convince the 82-year-old leader to begin handing over power.

'The Opec president has said that oil above $100 is not desirable, but while Middle-East unrest continues prices will probably hold around here,' Christopher Bellew of Bache Commodities said.

'The terrible fear must be of this unrest spreading to a major producing country like Saudi.' The protests in Egypt are the latest in a wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, which together produce more than one third of the world's oil.

'Ultimately, for the oil market, the uncertainties being introduced by the current political situation in Egypt have a far more long-term bearing,' said Barclays Capital analysts Helima L. Croft and Amrita Sen.

'Overall, the threat to the oil supply and the consequences of the oil supply loss seem relatively limited in this case, despite the heightened risks of a more violent transition to the new regime,' they added.

So far, the unrest in Egypt has not affected traffic on the Suez Canal or flows on the Suez-Mediterranean (SUMED) oil pipeline. Egypt controls both the canal and the pipeline, which together moved over 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and oil products in 2009, the latest data available.

Oil traders also awaited data on U.S. non-farm payrolls for January due at 1330 GMT as an indication for the state of the economy and energy demand in the world's largest oil consumer.

US hiring probably gathered steam in January, marking a fourth straight month of gains, but likely not enough to prevent the jobless rate from ticking up.

Non-farm payrolls are expected to have increased by 145,000 jobs, but severe snow storms that blanketed large parts of the country during the survey period could result in a much lower figure.

In other markets, Japanese shares rose on Friday, lifted by news of a mega merger in the steel sector, while a rebounding dollar put a slight dent in a commodities rally that saw copper hit a record $10,000 a tonne in the previous session.

The euro fell broadly on Thursday and could extend those losses after European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet threw cold water on expectations euro zone interest rates would rise any time soon.

Oil prices on Thursday were also under pressure from data published by industry tracker Genscape showing crude inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for the U.S. oil futures contract, hit a record high of almost 41 million barrels.-Reuters




Tags: oil rebound | egypt crisis |

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