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Fri 15 Feb 2013 10:50 AM

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Oil price steady at $118 amid euro zone concerns

Brent crude prices heading for first weekly loss in five after disappointing euro data

Oil price steady at $118 amid euro zone concerns
oil, energy, GCC oil, GCC energy, Middle East energy, Middle East oil

Brent crude was steady at around $118 per barrel on Friday, though was still heading for its first weekly loss in five after disappointing euro zone data revived concerns about the troubled region.

The euro zone last quarter slipped deeper into recession, with the steepest quarter-on-quarter drop since 2009. The bloc's biggest economies, Germany and France, fared worse than expected, suggesting problems there are far from over.

The euro zone data follows disappointing numbers from Japan on Thursday which showed that the country is still struggling to emerge from recession, while the U.S. fiscal concerns have also not been laid to rest.

"I think the reality is setting in that there are a lot of roadlocks still ahead; it doesn't surprise me that Brent has slipped," said Tony Nunan, an oil risk manager with Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo. "But prices will still stay supported because of the geo-political risk."

Renewed worries over Iran's nuclear programme as well as other Middle East tensions have kept a floor under the prices.

Front-month Brent futures fell 3 cents to $117.97 per barrel at 9.45am UAE time. The benchmark is heading for its first weekly loss since mid-January.

US crude rose 4 cents to $97.35 per barrel, putting it close to a 2-percent rise this week on concerns about gasoline supply.

The euro zone's 0.6 percent drop in economic output in the final quarter of last year dampened the glimmer of hope offered by positive industrial output data on Wednesday. Analyst had expected the output to drop 0.4 percent.

It marked the currency bloc's first full year in which no quarter produced growth, extending back to 1995. For the year as a whole, gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.5 percent.

"The size of the Eurozone GDP contraction in the December quarter has provided a moment of sombre reflection to what has been a festive-like atmosphere in financial markets," said Tim Waterer senior trader at CMC Markets in Sydney.

Supporting prices, US jobless claims fell more than expected, pointing to a steady improvement in job conditions in the world's biggest oil consumer.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, lower than the 360,000 forecast in a Reuters poll.

Increasing geo-political tensions added to the support.

Talks between Iran and the United Nations appear to have failed, as its inspectors returned on Thursday from talks in Tehran with no deal on reviving a nuclear investigation, no date for a new meeting and no signal of hope for big power diplomacy aimed at averting a war.

Worries about Iran's conflict with the West curbing its oil supply had eased slightly after the Middle Eastern nation appeared to be taking steps to slow the growth of its stockpiles of nuclear materials that could be used to make a bomb.

Syria's civil unrest continues to worsen, as does sabre rattling by Israel, adding to concerns about disruption of Middle Eastern supplies.

U.S. prices also found support from concerns that gasoline supplies may be reduced by refinery maintenance shutdowns, which pushed prices of the product as well as the oil complex higher.

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