Oil prices diverge amid jitters over eurozone stress tests

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World oil prices diverged on Thursday amid worries over the impact of the eurozone debt crisis, on the eve of crucial results of stress tests on Europe's troubled banking sector.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in August, gained 13 cents to $98.18 a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for August fell 66 cents to $118.12 in London late morning deals.

Prices are "consolidating after yesterday's gains ... with little direction", said VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov on Thursday.

"Jitters over the eurozone's peripheral debt will continue dictating direction with the banks' stress tests tomorrow," he added.

The EU's financial sector regulator, the European Banking Authority (EBA) will announce on Friday the outcome of its crucial assessments on 91 banks that represent 65 percent of Europe's banking sector.

The EBA's tests come at a crucial time, after the long-term cost of borrowing for Italy and Spain reached record highs this week, amid intensifying concern over sky-high levels of public debt.

Crude futures had rallied on Wednesday after news of a steeper-than-expected drop in US crude inventories indicated that oil demand was still strong in the world's largest oil consuming nation.

"The US oil inventories report showed a larger-than-expected stock drawdown for the sixth consecutive week," said Victor Shum, an analyst with Purvin and Gertz energy consultancy in Singapore.

He said this indicated that "US oil demand remains quite strong despite the high unemployment situation".

The US Department of Energy announced Wednesday that crude inventories dropped by 3.1 million barrels last week, more than double the amount expected by analysts.

And gasoline or petrol inventories fell by 800,000 barrels, reflecting heavy usage over the July 4 Independence Day holiday weekend, which is one of the busiest periods of the summer driving season in the United States.

US energy consumption is being closely monitored by the market because it is the world's biggest economy and oil consumer.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency warned on Wednesday that the oil market needed more supplies for the third quarter of 2011, despite increased OPEC production and its own emergency stock release last month.

"We welcome rising OPEC volumes seen in June, but the market needs still more oil," the IEA said in a monthly report, describing global oil demand as "robust".

On June 23, the IEA authorised an emergency drawdown of its member nations' strategic oil stockpiles to replace lost output from Libya and to give the global economy relief from soaring energy prices.

Oil prices have rebounded since then and are now above the levels they were at prior to the IEA's announcement, but the European debt crisis is dampening sentiment.


© 2011 AFP

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