Brent stays above $93 as investors eye EU summit outcome

Brent crude stayed above $93 per barrel on Thursday after rallying on an output cut by Norway and positive economic data from the United States, while investors eyed a summit of EU leaders that is unlikely to produce concrete measures to contain the bloc's protracted debt crisis.




EU leaders will start a two-day meeting in Brussels openly divided on Thursday, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel pitting herself against France and Italy, insisting that they put the bloc's fundamental problems ahead of pleas for emergency action.

Brent crude had edged down 3 cents to $93.47 per barrel by 0211 GMT, after settling at $93.50 on Wednesday, the highest in just over a week.

U.S. crude is up for a third day at $80.42, 21 cents higher than the previous day's close.

"Over the next few months, we do see higher prices, but that's on the basis that Europe doesn't take a turn for the worst," said Jeremy Friesen, a Hong Kong-based commodity strategist at Societe Generale. "We could see the rally extending if investors see the EU meeting as constructive."

Positive economic data from the United States buoyed global markets ahead of the EU summit. Demand for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rebounded while a gauge of business spending plans rose. But slowing global growth suggest the momentum might not be sustained.

"You can be bullish about the U.S. but your bullishness won't last until Europe recovers. It's the same for China," Friesen said.

U.S. crude oil stocks fell slightly last week on a dip in crude imports and increased refining rates, while fuel stockpiles were mixed as gasoline inventories rose and distillates fell, government data showed.


Brent's rally this week was partly due to supply disruptions in Norway, the world's eighth-largest oil exporter, analysts said.

Oil production in Norway is down by about 240,000 barrels of oil per day, or 15 percent of capacity, due to an oil workers' strike, a local industry association said, although the country's labour minister said the government was far from intervening.

Investors are also keeping a close watch on the impact of Western sanctions on Iranian crude supply as deadlines loomed.

"The Iran story is far from over," Jason Schenker, president of Prestige Economics in Austin, Texas, wrote in a note.

A full EU embargo on Iranian crude on July 1 could be bullish for oil as it created some short-term disruptions in global oil markets, he said.

"This situation could also easily bring geopolitical risks with Iran back to the front pages."

OPEC's second-largest producer Iran acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that its oil exports have fallen sharply, down 20-30 percent from normal volumes of 2.2 million barrels daily.

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