* U.S. Northeast oil infrastructure recovery continues
* Yemen, Syria tensions supportive to oil
* Investors cautious ahead of U.S. elections
* Coming up: API oil inventory data 4:30 p.m. EST Tuesday (Recasts with updated prices, market activity)
By Robert Gibbons
NEW YORK, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Brent crude jumped nearly 2 percent on Monday, snapping a string of five lower settlements as stronger U.S. gasoline futures helped oil to rally while storm-ravaged areas of the East Coast continued to grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Brent’s gains more than doubled those for U.S. crude, pushing Brent’s premium to its U.S. counterpart CL-LCO1=R back above $22 a barrel after it slumped to near $20 during the session.
Traders and analysts pointed to the start of a large unit overhaul at BP Plc’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery as helping attract investors to Brent.
The expectation is that the refinery work will raise inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, hub, delivery point for the U.S. light sweet crude contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The uncertain Middle East, with tensions rising in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Yemen and ongoing violence in Syria, was also cited as helping lift crude oil, especially Brent.
“The complex popped near the close reportedly on a flare up of Middle East tensions along the Yemeni border,” Jim Ritterbusch, president at Ritterbusch & Associates, said in a research note.
The near- and long-term effect of Hurricane Sandy on demand for petroleum is still unfolding as the U.S. East Coast’s recovery continued after the storm hit the region early last week.
Around 1.4 million homes and businesses were still without power on Monday morning, according to the Department of Energy, even as the key New York Harbor oil network neared normal operations and fuel terminals resumed operations after power was restored over the weekend.
Brent December crude rose $2.05 to settle at $107.73 a barrel, recovering after falling during the session to $104.76, the lowest price since Aug. 1.
Brent reached $108.18, stalling ahead of the 100-day moving average of $108.34.
U.S. December crude rose 79 cents to settle at $85.65 a barrel, after it slipped intraday to $84.34, the lowest since prices fell to $84.21 on July 12.
U.S. December RBOB gasoline futures rallied 4.66 cents to settle at $2.6202 a gallon, but only after dropping to a session low of $2.5524, the weakest gasoline futures price since June.
Gasoline slumped 6 cents on Friday as companies supplying New Jersey and the New York Harbour - the delivery point for the U.S. futures contract - restored more operations affected by the storm and the U.S. government temporarily waived shipping and fuel production regulations to boost the region’s supply.
Gasoline futures reached $2.9375 a gallon during last Wednesday’s session, after the storm struck the New York region on Monday night and on the day October refined products futures contracts expired.
U.S. December heating oil , the benchmark distillate contract, also pushed higher, rising 3.55 cents to settle at $2.9829 a gallon.
U.S. shares on Wall Street and the dollar inched higher as investors exhibited caution the day before Americans choose a president and as Greece headed into two key votes to secure further rescue funds.
Markets are worried about the outcome of Congressional talks over the ‘fiscal cliff,’ a package of tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect in January if there is no long-term pact to cut the U.S. budget deficit.
If policymakers are unable to fashion a solution to avoid the fiscal cliff, it could push the world’s biggest economy into a recession and cut energy demand more than expected.
“After the election, more confidence should come into the markets,” said Eugen Weinberg, an energy analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. He added that investors were also awaiting the outcome of the Chinese 18th Party Congress this week.
“We expect the new leadership in China to undertake further economic support measures which will have a positive impact on commodities,” he said. (Additional reporting by Claire Milhench in London and Ramya Venugopal and Rebekah Kebede; Editing by Marguerita Choy)