Oil prices mixed in Asian trade

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Singapore - Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Friday after a steep decline in US trade, as investors await the release of US stockpiles data while keeping an eye on a disruption in Iraqi supplies.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery, eased five cents to $95.39 in afternoon trade while Brent North Sea crude for February rose 19 cents to $107.97.

WTI plunged $2.98 in New York trade Thursday while Brent tumbled $3.02, following news that a major Libyan field could come back on line later this week, which would soften demand.

A spokesman for the Libyan National Oil Corporation told AFP Thursday that the 330,000 barrel a day El Sharara field is expected to resume normal output within two or three days, once protesters who have blocked production pull out.

Oil production in Libya has plunged to about 250,000 barrels a day from nearly 1.5 million in the face of demands from armed protesters for more regional autonomy and greater say over the distribution of oil revenues.

Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said there was broadly “positive sentiment” over a solid US stockpiles report to be released later Friday.

The report, usually released on Wednesday, has been postponed due to the New Year's Day holiday.

According to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires, the average forecast is that crude oil supplies fell 2.2 million barrels last week, a fifth consecutive dip after a 10 week run of rises.

Chua said the rebound was also likely to be supported by concerns about Iraqi exports, as militants bombed a major oil pipeline in the northern region of the country on Thursday.

Blasts hit the pipeline, which runs to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, in Salaheddin province to the north of Baghdad, according to an official, who added that the fire was extinguished and repairs had begun.

Iraq is heavily dependent on oil exports, and the government is seeking to dramatically ramp up its sales in the coming years to fund the reconstruction of its battered infrastructure. - Sapa-AFP


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