Oil around $86 on Middle East protests

2011-02-18 09:42

Singapore - Oil prices hovered above $86 a barrel on Friday in Asia as violent protests in the Middle East keep investors on edge about possible crude supply disruptions.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was down 18c at $86.18 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.37 to settle at $86.36 on Thursday.

Bahrain's leaders banned public gatherings and sent tanks into the streets on Thursday, intensifying a crackdown that killed five anti-government protesters and wounded more than 200. Bahrain is not a major oil-producing country, but it is strategically important to the US as home to the Navy's 5th Fleet.

There have also been anti-government protests in Iran, Algeria, Jordan and Libya following the ouster of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer. Algeria and Libya are also important crude suppliers.

"The rising fears about a huge change in the Middle East region, home to the world's largest oil and gas reserves and production, is providing support to prices," Barclays Capital said in a report.

In London, Brent crude for April delivery gained 6c to $102.65 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange. Traders consider Brent better reflects events in Asia and the Middle East while the traditional benchmark oil, West Texas Intermediary, is currently influenced more by high US crude inventories and sluggish demand.

"The Brent market remains the more important gauge of Asian demand strength and geopolitical risk premium related to evolving civil developments in the Middle East," Ritterbusch and Associates said in a report.