NYMEX-US crude steadies above $103 as Ukraine tensions ease

SEOUL, March 5 Tue Mar 4, 2014 7:37pm EST

SEOUL, March 5 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil futures held just above $103 a barrel on Wednesday after pulling back from 5-1/2 month highs hit earlier in the week, as tensions over Russian military intervention in Crimea calmed.

FUNDAMENTALS

* U.S. crude for April delivery gained 1 cents at $103.34 a barrel as of 0018 GMT after settling $1.59 lower at $103.33 in the previous session.

* April Brent crude settled $1.90 lower at $109.30 a barrel.

* President Vladimir Putin delivered a robust defence of Russia's actions in Crimea on Tuesday and said he would use force in Ukraine only as a last resort, easing market fears that East-West tension over the former Soviet republic could lead to war.

But tension remained high on the ground, with Russian forces firing warning shots in a confrontation with Ukrainian servicemen, and Russian navy ships were reported to have blockaded the strait separating the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula from Russia.

* In Asia, China is aiming for economic growth of about 7.5 percent in 2014 and to keep consumer inflation around 3.5 percent for the year, Premier Li Keqiang said as the country began its annual meeting of parliament, the National People's Congress.

The annual growth target was the same as in 2013 - as expected by most analysts.

* U.S. commercial crude oil inventories rose by 1.2 million barrels last week, in line with expectations, inventory data released by the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday. Stockpiles at Cushing, Oklahoma, where the American benchmark is priced, fell by 2.6 million barrels, the data showed.

The government's Energy Information Administration will publish its data on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. EST.

* In Libya, top officials said production at the El Sharara oilfield may resume as they are working to address protesters demands. Production there has fallen to little over 200,000 barrels per day from 1.4 million bpd in July due to protests that closed the oilfield in the eastern region of the country.

MARKETS NEWS

* Asian stocks rose and the dollar held firm in early trade on Wednesday, after remarks from Russian President Vladimir Putin allayed fears of an imminent military conflict in Ukraine. The dollar index edged up to 80.150, moving away from Friday's two-month low of 79.688.

DATA/EVENTS

* The following data is expected on Wednesday: (Time in GMT)

DATA (GMT)

0145 China HSBC Services PMI

0843 Italy Markit/ADACI Services PMI

0848 France Markit Services PMI

0853 Germany Markit Services PMI

0858 Euro zone Markit Services PMI

1000 Euro zone Revised Q4 GDP

1000 Euro zone Retail sales

1315 U.S. ADP national employment

1500 U.S. ISM Non-manufacturing PMI

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