Oil prices rise in Asian trade

SINGAPORE- Oil prices edged higher in Asian trade Wednesday following upbeat global economic data but a lack of fresh leads was curbing further gains, analysts said.

New York’s West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for May delivery rose three cents to $99.77 a barrel in late-morning trade and Brent North Sea crude for May was up four cents at $105.66.

Analysts said prices were tracking gains in Asian markets Wednesday, following the release a day earlier of upbeat reports on manufacturing in China, Europe and the United States.

China reported an uptick in its official purchasing managers index (PMI) in March after hitting an eight-month low in February.

Markit Economics said its eurozone PMI for March stood at 53.0. The figure is down from February’s 53.2 but the average reading over the first quarter as a whole was 53.4. A reading above 50 denotes expansion while anything below points to contraction.

Later the US Institute for Supply Management also said its PMI hit 53.7 from 53.2 the previous month.

French bank Credit Agricole said “sentiment in the global market continued to be supported” following the robust economic data.

But “we expect range-trading for Asian markets today. There is no important data out from Asia today”, it said.

Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, told AFP investors are also awaiting the US government’s weekly oil inventories report out later Wednesday, which is expected to show a build of 2.5 million barrels.

A rise in US stockpiles indicates weak demand in the world’s biggest crude consumer, which would in turn put downward pressure on prices.

Investors are also continuing to monitor the tense situation in Ukraine, as NATO said Tuesday it has suspended all cooperation with Russia and questioned Moscow’s claim to have withdrawn troops along the Ukraine border.

Russia provides about a quarter of Europe’s natural gas supplies, with about 80 percent of those exports travelling through pipelines in Ukraine.

Russian troops are massed on the borders of eastern Ukraine, sparking fears about Moscow’s plans after its takeover of the Crimean peninsula last month.