Oil prices up in Asia on US data

SINGAPORE- Oil prices rose in Asian trade Wednesday as data showed a better-than-expected jump in US consumer confidence to a six-year high.

New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for May delivery, was up 15 cents to $99.34 a barrel in late-morning trade, and Brent crude for May climbed 16 cents to $107.15.

The US Conference Board’s index for March confidence came in at 82.3 — its highest since January 2008 — from 78.3 in February and far better than the 78.9 expected.

The index indicates that American consumers are more confident about the prospects for the world’s biggest economy, which would also augur well for energy demand.

“Consumer confidence in the US climbed to a six-year high in March in a sign that Americans are more upbeat about the economy as spring approaches,” Phillip Futures said in a market commentary.

“Sentiments were weighed down last quarter as the harsh cold dampened spending across the country.”

The market is also keeping an eye on a closely watched US energy stockpiles report to be released later Wednesday, with analysts expecting a build-up that could put downward pressure on oil prices.

Slow traffic movement at a key petroleum waterway in the United States after a ship collision that resulted in an oil spill could help push the inventories higher.

Shailaja Nair, senior managing editor of energy market information provider Platts, said that although the Houston Ship Channel was reopened, vessel movement is still not back to normal, slowing down supplies to refineries in the US Gulf Coast.

“If the refineries do not take the usual amount of crude oil, the crude stockpiles will go up,” Nair told AFP.