Oil Inches Higher on Renewed Libya Concerns


Crude oil prices turned positive Tuesday as investors eyed market technicals, an equities market bounce and reined in optimism about an early return of Libya's oil exporting capabilities.

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Investors also cited strong U.S. heating oil and gasoline futures, helped by news of a Sunoco refinery restoring capacity back after losing power, and expectations that weekly inventory reports will show slumping U.S. stockpiles.

Expectations about a relatively swift restoration of Libyan oil to the market were curbed by successes by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi's government in reversing rebel gains, adding lift to oil prices, brokers and analysts said.

Brent crude futures for May delivery rose 51 cents to $115.31 a barrel by 12:11 p.m. EDT (1611 GMT), bouncing off its early $113.52 low.

U.S. May crude futures rose 50 cents to $104.48 a barrel, swinging between $104.79 and $102.70, where crude found support just below the 20-day moving average of $102.89, according to Reuters data.

Recent low trading volumes have also helped keep oil trading volatile.

Total U.S. crude trading volume was at just over 251,000 lots traded, 69 percent below the 30-day average. Brent trading volume at over 243,000 also was tracking below average.

Continued protests and unrest in Yemen, Syria and news of Kuwait's death sentences for three people for being in an alleged Iranian spy ring kept worries about the potential for supply disruptions in the region in play.

But worries about sliding U.S. consumer confidence in the face of higher fuel prices and the recovery of Japan as it continues to deal with its post-quake nuclear crisis remain factors hemming any advance by oil prices.

"We have two factors that are countervailing," said Harry Tchilinguirian, analyst at BNP Paribas.

"There is a risk premium in the Middle East built in on risk of further contagion. On the other hand we have the fact Japan is a major component of the global supply chain, so the potential for a price correction in the second quarter remains."

(Additional reporting by Nia Williams, Barbara Lewis, Florence Tan, Alejandro Barbajosa and Randy Fabi; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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