Apr 30, 2012, 12.04 PM IST
Brent crude edged lower towards USD 119 per barrel on Monday as economic woes in developed economies stoked fears of lower fuel demand, although the prospect of a third round of monetary easing by the United States limited its decline.
US economic growth cooled in the first quarter, raising expectations that the Federal Reserve could start a third round of government bond buying, or quantitative easing known in markets as QE3, to support the economy. Such a move would increase market liquidity and heighten risk appetite for commodities.
Brent June crude had fallen 25 cents to USD 119.58 per barrel by 0306 GMT after gaining nearly 1 percent last week. US June crude was at USD 104.72 per barrel, down 21 cents.
Trading in Asia is likely to be subdued, with Japan and China closed for a public holiday.
"If growth in the U.S. is going to be weaker than the Fed and the market expect, then the Fed will have to act," said Jeremy Friesen, commodities strategist at Societe Generale.
While Friday's U.S. growth data was not weak enough to spur the Fed into another round of bond buying, it kept expectations for QE3 alive, analysts said.
The U.S. dollar stayed at multi-week lows against the euro and yen on the possibility of more stimulus. A weaker greenback can be supportive to dollar-denominated oil by making it less expensive to consumers using other currencies.
Europe's debt woes continued to spook investors as some economies in the region returned to recession, while data on Friday underscored Spain's economic plight, with nearly a quarter of its work force unemployed.
"We're going through the worst patch now as reforms start to take effect," Friesen said.
Better H2 2012
Yet expectations for better economic growth in the second half of the year and tighter oil supplies, because of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa and production disruption in the North Sea, could lift oil prices, analysts said.
"The global economy will have a stronger second half as central banks will have no alternative but to stimulate growth," Friesen said, adding that tighter sanctions on Iran would curb supplies.
Seasonal demand for gasoline and diesel was expected to pick up from mid-May, while refineries would emerge from maintenance, he said.
The United States was expected to press ahead with sanctions on OPEC's second-largest producer Iran as global oil inventories grew in the past two months, analysts said.
World oil and motor fuel supplies exceeded demand by 500,000 barrels per day in March and April, the Energy Information Administration said, allowing consumer countries to build cushions against potential losses from U.S. and EU measures against Tehran.
Societe Generale expects Brent to average at USD 130 per barrel in the second half, with prices higher in third quarter as the sanctions take effect from July 1.
A European Union oil embargo on Iran, set to take effect in July, prohibits EU insurers from covering Iranian oil exports anywhere in the world.
Brent's premium to West Texas Intermediate could narrow to USD 5 per barrel, Friesen said, as the Seeway pipeline reverses from mid-May, draining a glut of crude from the U.S. Midwest.
Brent's premium to WTI was at USD 14.86 per barrel on Monday, below Friday's settlement at USD 14.90.
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