Oil higher on Middle East tension, US data

Posted at 02/17/12 12:55 PM

SINGAPORE - Oil prices edged higher in Asian trade Friday on continued tension between Western powers and crude producer Iran, as well as positive economic data from the United States, analysts said.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for March delivery, rose 12 cents to $102.43 per barrel and Brent North Sea crude for April delivery gained 24 cents to $120.35.

"Crude rose... on worries about supply from Iran and from the North Sea, where output was expected to dip next month," said Phillip Futures in a commentary.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran on Thursday of being the most irresponsible country in the world and said sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear drive "haven't worked."

His comments come amidst feverish speculation that Israel was getting closer to mounting a pre-emptive strike on Iran's atomic programme.

Tehran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions, in addition to a raft of unilateral US and EU sanctions, designed to halt a programme that the West fears masks a drive for atomic weapons.

Tehran denies this charge, saying its nuclear plan is for peaceful purposes.

Oil prices were also supported by news that US unemployment benefit claims fell to a four-year low last week, indicating a labour market recovery in the world's biggest economy and largest oil consumer, Phillip Futures said.

The US Department of Labor on Thursday said applications for unemployment insurance payments dropped by 13,000 to 348,000 last week.

Meanwhile, traders are also closely watching the situation in the North Sea, where output is set to fall for a third month in March due to maintenance works.