Brent holds below $108, heads for 1st weekly gain since late Feb

Fri Mar 28, 2014 12:06am EDT

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By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

SINGAPORE, March 28 (Reuters) - Brent steadied below $108 per barrel on Friday, retaining most of its gains from the prior session and heading for the first weekly rise in five, on promising U.S. data and fears geopolitical tensions could dent supply from Russia.

The U.S. economy grew a bit faster than estimated in the fourth quarter and new claims for jobless aid fell to a near four-month low last week, suggesting a brighter outlook for demand in the world's biggest oil consumer.

Brent crude was down 7 cents at $107.76 a barrel by 0801 GMT, after gaining 80 cents on Thursday, but prices were headed for an almost 1 percent gain for the week.

U.S. crude edged up 11 cents at $101.39 per barrel, after settling $1.02 higher in the previous session. It was on track for a 1.9 percent weekly rise, the highest since early February, on continued drawdown in oil stocks at Cushing, the pricing point for the U.S. benchmark.

"We are seeing a firmer overall global demand outlook, which will likely support oil markets," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

"Durable goods orders in transport are in general strong indicator for energy markets. The numbers show that demand is rising," McCarthy said, referring to orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods that rebounded in February, ending two straight months of decline.

SUPPLY WORRIES UNDERPIN

Oil prices also continued to draw support from the Ukraine crisis, worries about which had eased slightly earlier this week after the U.S. President and his allies agreed to hold off on more damaging economic sanctions against Russia, the world's top oil producer, unless Moscow goes beyond the seizure of Crimea.

But on Wednesday, the U.S. and the European Union agreed to work together to prepare tougher sanctions against Russia and to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas.

"We still see some risk premium over Ukraine build into oil prices," said McCarthy.

Other supply worries also underpinned prices.

In Libya, protesters have blocked a pipeline carrying around 30,000 barrels per day of oil condensate from the southwestern al-Wafa oilfield to the Mellitah export port, state-owned National Oil Corp (NOC) said on Thursday.

NOC this week said Libya's total output stood at 155,000 barrels per day (bpd), after the 130,000 bpd El Feel field, co-operated by ENI, had stopped producing. The 340,000 bpd El Sharara field shut down weeks ago.

Libya's exports have been well below its capacity of around 1.25 million bpd since July 2013 when militias and protesters began blocking its major oil export terminals and oilfields. (Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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