Oil holds above $102 on Saudi worries

2011-03-11 09:57

Singapore - Benchmark crude prices held above the $102 level in Asian trade on Friday after easing off two-year highs, with traders awaiting further news on protests in Saudi Arabia, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, gained 14c to $102.84 per barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for April delivery dipped 23c to $115.20.

"Friday will be an important day to watch for the scheduled protests in Saudi Arabia," said Victor Shum, senior principal for Purvin and Gertz international energy consultants in Singapore.

Online activists have called for a "Day of Rage" of street protests in oil kingpin Saudi Arabia on Friday.

One witness said Saudi police shot and wounded three Shiite protesters in the oil-rich Eastern Province on Thursday while trying to disperse a protest calling for the release of Shiite prisoners.

The Saudi interior ministry had earlier issued a stern reminder that any demonstration was illegal and warned activists that the security forces had been authorised to crack down on any protests.

Before news of the Saudi incident, oil prices had eased off two-year highs on fresh European debt concerns and sobering US and Chinese economic data.

"Overnight there has been very mixed news on the global economic front that put downward pressure on oil," said Shum.

Europe's sovereign debt crisis returned to the headlines as rating agency Moody downgraded Spain's sovereign rating, renewing concerns that a debt crisis may be creeping from Greece and Ireland to one of the biggest economies in the 17-nation bloc.

In addition, economic reports from the world's two largest economies also dented market sentiment.

China posted a surprising trade deficit in February, the first gap in nearly a year, as exports dramatically slowed, raising fears that the main engine of global economic growth was sputtering.

The US economy experienced a rise in its jobless claims in February.

Shum said prices should stay above $100 because of unrest in the Middle East and North African region.

Libya's crude oil exports have slowed sharply in the past week and are now significantly below the 500 000 barrels a day reported last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said on Thursday.