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Brent rises most in almost two weeks as Libya ports remain closed

Brent crude advanced the most in almost two weeks after Libyan rebels refused to hand over control of three oil ports to the government. 

Futures rose as much as 1.1%. The North Sea grade slid 2.5% last week on speculation that the ports, shut since July, would be reopened. Ibrahim Al Jedran, a Libyan rebel leader, told a news conference on Sunday that the oil-export terminals of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina will remain shut after the government rejected his conditions.

Output from the country, holder of Africa’s largest proven reserves, fell to 210 000 barrels a day last month, the lowest level since 2011. "The market thought the recent suggestions of a deal were the most realistic Libyan negotiations have been since July," said Amrita Sen, chief oil market strategist at Energy Aspects, a London-based consultant which last week predicted the terminals would probably stay closed. "We had expected a short- covering rally this morning."

Brent for January settlement, which expires on Monday, gained as much as $1.24 to $110.07 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The more-active February contract traded $1.17 higher at $109.49 as of 11:51 am London time.

Brent, used to price more than half the world’s crude, including most exports from Libya, is typically more sensitive to global disruptions than WTI [West Texas Intermediate]. WTI for January delivery rose 54 cents to $97.14 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The volume of all futures traded was about 9.7% below the 100-day average. The US benchmark crude was at a discount of $12.77 to Brent, compared with $12.35 on December 13.

Rejected demands
Libya produced an average of 1.55-million barrels a day in 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show, and had planned to raise output to 2-million barrels a day through increased exploration.

The country is exporting about 110 000 barrels a day from five terminals under government control. Another terminal, Hariga in the east, is under partial government control.

Al Jedran said authorities rejected demands to share oil revenue with his self-proclaimed government and signaled that the eastern region known as Cyrenaica may sell crude without approval. Saleh Al Etweish, the tribal mediator who is trying to end the stalemate, said the government has agreed to Al Jedran’s conditions to set up a committee to monitor oil sales and review past contracts.

Ports hiccup
"The news out of Libya is a bit of a hiccup,”" said Michael McCarthy, a chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. "What we are seeing is a trader reaction." The ports remaining shut is "short-term positive" for Brent prices, he said in a phone interview.

Total SA, France’s biggest oil company, is not supplying fuel from all five of its refineries in the country amid a workers strike that has led to two facilities halting production, according to a labour union.

Employees at Gonfreville, Donges, La Mede, Granpuits and Feyzin started industrial action on December 13 because of a pay dispute, according to the CGT. The Gonfreville and La Mede sites are in the process of halting production, Julien Granato, a CGT representative at La Mede, said by phone. An official for Paris- based Total, who asked not to be identified citing corporate policy, declined to comment.

Economists see increased odds that Federal Reserve policy makers will begin reducing stimulus following signs that the labour market is improving and bipartisan passage of a US budget. The central bank may begin reducing its $85-billion of monthly bond purchases at its December 17-18 meeting, according to 34% of economists in a December 6 Bloomberg survey, up from 17% in a November 8 poll.

The U.S. will account for about 21%of global oil demand this year, compared with 11% from China, the second-largest consuming country, according to forecasts from the International Energy Agency. – Bloomberg

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