SINGAPORE, Feb 25 (Reuters) – Brent futures eased on Tuesday on expectations that U.S. crude stocks were set to show a rise for a second straight week, but held above $110 a barrel on concerns over shortages following prolonged production outages in Libya and other exporters.
An easing of the severe chill over the United States and Europe is likely to cut demand for heating fuels, removing a key support that has propped up oil benchmarks during a period of typically low demand.
Investors are also looking forward to a rise in gasoline ahead of the start of the U.S. summer driving season.
Brent crude LCOc1 fell 29 cents to $110.35 a barrel by 0740 GMT, after settling at its highest for the year in the previous session. U.S. oil Clc1 declined 52 cents to $102.30, after ending 62 cents higher.
“After heating oil, the market will now look at gasoline demand and how that will help support oil prices,” said Tetsu Emori, a commodity fund manager at Astmax Investment.
“There will be some refineries shutting down for maintenance, but it is hard to predict the direction of oil at this point.”
Emori sees strong support for Brent at $105 a barrel and resistance at $115. The U.S. benchmark has support at $100, but could slip to $98.
Worries of further supply disruption following continued unrest in Libya, South Sudan, Nigeria and sanctions on Iran reduced chances of a steep slide in prices.
As the market focuses its attention to gasoline, investors are trying to assess if sales of the fuel on the back of an improving U.S. economy will help offset the fall in distillates consumption and support oil. They are also looking at seasonal refinery maintenance coming up and how that will hurt demand and push up inventories.
“Investors are worried about the repercussions on crude oil demand when winter fades,” analysts at Phillip Futures said in a note. “On the other hand, upcoming summer maintenance in the United States and the North Sea refineries is likely to cause stockpiles to accumulate. This will weigh on crude oil prices.”
U.S. commercial crude stocks were expected to have risen 1.4 million barrels on average for the week to Feb. 21, according to a preliminary Reuters poll taken ahead of weekly inventory reports from industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA/S
That would mark an increase for a second straight week as crude oil stocks rose about 1 million barrels to 362 million barrels in the week to Feb. 14, while crude imports fell 508,000 bpd to 7.36 million barrels per day, EIA data had showed.
Stocks of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, were forecast to have fallen 1.5 million barrels on average last week, in the latest survey. Gasoline stocks were also seen down 1.5 million. API/S