Oil Eases as Iran Says Nearer to EU on Nuclear

Oil eased, but stayed above $68 a barrel on Thursday, after Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said differences with the European Union over its nuclear program were gradually narrowing. Prices had rallied by more than a dollar on Wednesday in response to a much bigger than expected decline in US gasoline stocks which sank them to the lowest level since October 2005, a Reuters report said.

London Brent crude, currently seen as more representative of global oil prices than US crude, shed 18 cents to $68.397 a barrel at 0918 GMT, after gaining $1.41 on Wednesday.

“The market has been so focused on gasoline that it has forgotten a bit about Iran,” said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix. “But now there seems to be some softening in the approach.”

After talks on Wednesday between the European Union and the world’s fourth biggest oil exporter Iran, Larijani said the two sides — due to meet again in two weeks — were approaching “a united view” in some areas.

The dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is only for energy, has dragged on for nearly a year, keeping oil prices supported as investors anticipate possible supply disruptions.

Brent crude has traded in a $5 a barrel range of around $65-to-$70 for about a month.

“Crude oil prices have consolidated in the mid-$60s and there is no fundamental reason to push them down — especially if demand growth remains healthy in the US and China,” said Mike Wittner of Calyon investment bank.

Prices have also drawn support from a flare-up in violence in OPEC-producer Nigeria following weekend elections that observers say were rigged.

Nigeria has lost 600,000 barrels per day of output for over a year, though Nigerian officials say more than half that volume will be restarted by the end of May.

But analysts said a push beyond $70 was unlikely because of rising crude inventories in top consumer the United States.

While the latest US data on Wednesday showed gasoline stocks fell by 2.8 million barrels, overall crude inventories gained 2.1 million barrels, helping to keep the pressure on US light crude.

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