Oil prices mixed in Asian trade

SINGAPORE- Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Thursday as investors weighed a surprisingly robust US stockpiles report with an expected return of Libyan supply after a months-long disruption in exports, analysts said.

New York’s West Texas Intermediate for May delivery eased 21 cents to $99.41 a barrel in mid-morning trade and Brent North Sea crude for May was up 12 cents at $104.91.

“There is some downward pressure from the Libyan side,” Tan Chee Tat, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, told AFP.

Tan said investors are digesting reports that the North African state, a member of oil producing cartel OPEC, may be close to reaching a deal with rebels who have blockaded oil terminals since July.

“This would release about 600,000 barrels of crude per day into the market,” he said.

Libyan exports have dwindled to around 250,000 barrels a day from 1.5 million following the blockade, initially sparked by protesters demanding jobs.

Negative sentiment over the prospective surge in global supply was however pared by an upbeat US stockpiles data that confounded market expectations.

The US Energy Information Administration said Wednesday American crude inventories slid 2.4 million barrels in the week to March 28, contrary to analyst expectations for a gain of 700,000 barrels.

The latest figures suggest higher demand in the world’s top crude consumer, though the figures may have been distorted by a transport bottleneck after an oil spill shut down a key Texas coast channel last week.

Tan said investors will next be closely watching US jobless claims figures out later Thursday for clues about the strength of recovery in the US economy.