Oil Futures Firm on Concerns of Further Sanctions on Russia

Dow Jones Newswires

Oil futures gained Tuesday on ongoing concerns that tensions between Russia and the West could lead to stronger sanctions that would crimp exports from Russia, the No. 2 oil-exporting nation.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery settled up 44 cents, or 0.4%, at $101.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange rose 86 cents, or 0.8%, to $108.98 a barrel.

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The U.S. and European Union imposed fresh sanctions on Russian individuals and companies this week that weren't expected to affect Russian exports, sending Brent prices to two-week lows.

However, new sanctions aren't off the table, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday, adding that the U.S. is "inches away" from placing sanctions on whole sectors of the Russian economy, such as energy.

Given the uncertainty about Russia's next steps, "you don't really find anybody who wants to sell" oil futures, said Gene McGillian, broker and analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. "Every time (the market) turns around, it seems to focus on the geopolitical risk factors, and that's why we're moving higher."

On Wednesday, the focus is likely to shift toward weekly inventory data set to be released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Analysts expect the EIA to report that crude-oil supplies rose by 2.2 million barrels last week, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. If the estimate is correct, the gain would bring inventories to a new all-time high on weekly data going back to 1982.

Analysts expect gasoline supplies to fall by 400,000 barrels and stocks of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, to rise by 600,000 barrels.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said late Tuesday that its own data for the same week shows a three million-barrel rise in crude stocks, according to industry sources. The group also said gasoline inventories fell by 49,000 barrels and distillate stocks rose by 688,000 barrels, according to the sources.

Front-month U.S. crude-oil prices slipped on the news.

Monthly employment data are also set for release this week. Higher employment could indicate stronger demand for petroleum products, especially gasoline, as more commuters drive to work.

"While tomorrow's EIA report will likely prompt a quick 'knee jerk' reaction, we feel that the monthly string of job numbers...could be a major determinant in how the oil complex finishes this week," energy-advisory firm Ritterbusch & Associates said in a note.

Front-month May reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, settled up 2.31 cents, or 0.8%, at $3.0634 a gallon. May diesel rose 1.82 cents, or 0.6%, at $2.9701 a gallon.

More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:

Nymex Light Crude Oil Close Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close Nymex Heating Oil Close ICE Brent Crude Oil Close ICE Gas Oil Close

--Gerald F. Seib contributed to this article.

Write to Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

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