Brent crude hits $123 before US data
Brent oil on Wednesday hit $123 for the first time since late 2008 as traders mulled the outlook for supplies amid unrest in Libya, and as they awaited the latest snapshot of US energy inventories.
At 0915 GMT, Brent crude reached $123 a barrel -- the highest level since August 2008. Brent North Sea for delivery in May later stood at $122.71, up 49 cents compared with Tuesday's close.
New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for May, rose 11 cents to $108.45 a barrel.
"Brent crude oil continued its rally toward $123 per barrel level, as the political turmoil in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain raised further concerns about the oil supplies in the area," said Myrto Sokou, an analyst at Sucden Financial brokers.
"However, WTI crude oil consolidated around $108 per barrel level, ahead of the weekly... oil inventories report."
The weekly US data is closely watched by the market as the United States is the world's biggest consumer of oil.
All eyes were also on Libya, whose oil exports have ground to a halt owing to the country's fighting.
As it suffers from fuel shortages, the government of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has imported 19,000 tonnes of gasoline (petrol), a source close to the state oil company said on Wednesday.
"The Libyan government imported a cargo of gasoline from a foreign tanker that was anchored in Tunisian waters, loading it aboard a Libyan ship and taking it to the port of Zawiyah," west of Tripoli, the source said on condition of anonymity. "The shipment was unloaded on Tuesday."
Most of the service stations in Tripoli are closed due to a lack of supplies.
In the rebel-held east of the country, oil exports were set to resume for the first time since mid-March after the arrival of a tanker capable of holding 100 million dollars' worth of crude.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a market note that a persistent rise in oil prices caused by unrest in Libya and Middle East could slow down global economic growth.
"Some additional upward pressure on commodities should not upset the economic recovery, as long as it is transitory," it said.
However, "a persistent uplift in Brent crude oil prices above $130 this year could create severe economic damage," it warned.
© 2011 AFP