Singapore: Brent crude rose on Friday, hovering above $115 a barrel, as a softer dollar and persistent Middle East tensions tempered demand worries triggered by euro zone debt concerns and weak US economic data.
The euro fell to a record low against the Swiss franc on worries that Greece was again teetering on the brink of a financial crisis, while the dollar index ticked down 0.6 percent, dented by data showing the US economy grew less than expected in the first quarter.
“The immediate factor impacting crude’s trade direction is the US dollar, which is helping to support prices,” Victor Shum, an analyst at Purvin & Gertz, said in Singapore. A softer dollar makes commodities priced in the greenback more attractive to consumers using other currencies.
“It’s also the Memorial Day holiday in the US, and most traders wouldn’t want to be caught short over the long weekend.”
Brent crude rose 28 cents to $115.33 a barrel by 8:49am. US crude was up 45 cents at $100.68, after falling more than 1 percent on Thursday.
Both benchmarks were headed for monthly losses in May, snapping eight-month winning streaks.
According to technical charts, a bullish target at $118.43 per barrel is intact for Brent crude, while US oil may zigzag up to $104.60 per barrel, as a rebound that started from the May 17 low of $95.02 has not completed, said Reuters market analyst Wang Tao.
But demand concerns stemming from the euro zone debt crisis and disappointing data from top energy consumer United States kept a lid on oil price gains.
Markets were spooked by the possibility of a Greek default after the head of euro zone finance ministers Jean-Claude Juncker said the IMF could deny Greece the next tranche of aid.
Juncker’s spokesman, however, later clarified that if European and IMF inspectors were convinced by new Greek austerity measures, there would be no problem with the June aid tranche.
“There’s no question that the euro zone is adding to the volatility of crude futures. If the IMF appoints a new head quickly that might add some clarity to the situation which would support the euro and weaken the dollar,” said Shum.
The post of IMF managing director is up for grabs since Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested on 14 May on charges of attempting to rape a New York hotel maid, quit.
China joined other increasingly powerful but less developed nations to challenge an understanding in the recruitment process that has kept the top job in European hands ever since the IMF was created after World War Two.
Weak economic data from US overnight also sparked fresh concerns about oil demand.
Unexpectedly weak consumer spending hobbled the US economy in the first quarter, with GDP coming in at an annual 1.8% which was less than expected, corporate profits shrank and there were fresh signs of a slowdown in the labor market - pointing to an uphill struggle for recovery.
SUPPLY DISRUPTION FEARS
The risk of further supply disruptions in North Africa and the Middle gained traction again as ongoing conflicts in Yemen and the Libya showed no signs of respite.
In the Middle East, Yemen stood precariously on the verge of civil war on Friday as President Ali Abdullah Saleh defied calls from opponents and world leaders for him to relinquish power.
The United States, France and Canada stepped up their calls on Thursday for Yemen President to step down, after overnight gunbattles killed dozens of people.
In Libya, Nato launched a fourth night of airstrikes on Tripoli on Thursday, leaving smoke rising from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s compound, after the United States said a ceasefire offer from Libya was not credible.
Uncertainty over pan-Arab protests and Libya’s conflict pushed Brent to a 32-month peak last month, and has effectively put a floor under prices, analysts said.