* U.S. crude oil tops $100 for first time in 2 months
* Steep declines in US crude and product inventories -EIA
* ULSD futures settle with highest gain since Sept. 6
* Strikes end at French refineries
(Adds CFTC COT report release date at bottom)
By Jeanine Prezioso
NEW YORK, Dec 27 U.S. crude oil futures closed
on Friday with their biggest gain in more than two months driven
by the fourth straight weekly decline in oil inventories while
Brent crude drew support from civil unrest in Africa that has
cut off supplies.
Brent gains were capped as traders sold contracts to unwind
the spread between the European benchmark and its American
Brent's rise was also checked after South Sudan government
forces said they had defeated rebels in the capital of the
country's major oil producing state, after four days of intense
fighting. By Friday afternoon, the government
said it was ready for a ceasefire.
Escalating violence in South Sudan had threatened to reduce
its crude output further, adding to supply outages in Libya,
where production is running at a mere 250,000 barrels per day
Prices were supported by U.S. government data that showed
crude oil stocks in the U.S. fell 4.7 million barrels in the
week ended Dec. 20, double the forecast of a 2.3-million-barrel
Brent oil ended the day 20 cents higher at $112.18
per barrel, the highest settlement since Dec. 3. U.S. crude
added 77 cents to settle at $100.32, the highest
settlement price since Oct. 18. U.S. oil futures broke above the
$100-mark for the first time since Oct. 21.
The spread between the two benchmarks CL-LCO1=R narrowed
57 cents to $11.86 per barrel from the previous session.
"The selling pressure in the spread showed up as WTI
rallied," said Gene McGillian, analyst with Tradition Energy in
U.S. gasoline futures prices were tempered by the
news that workers at Total's last striking refinery in
France ended their two-week walkout, easing concern over product
market tightness. The contract ended less than
one percent lower at $2.8161 per gallon.
U.S. refineries ran at high capacity to meet demand for
refined oil products, which rose 5.3 percent from a year ago,
indicating increased demand for U.S. oil. Distillate stocks,
which include heating oil and diesel, fell close to four times
the market forecast as the U.S. continues to export refined
fuels to Europe and Latin America.
Ultra low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) futures settled 0.95
percent higher at $3.1241 per gallon, the highest settlement
price since Sept. 6.
"There's strong demand here from the refining sector and the
annual destocking is giving the market some support," said John
Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC.
"The demand numbers were supportive yet again from the
Oil output in South Sudan had fallen by nearly a fifth to
200,000 bpd after the Unity state oilfields shut earlier this
week due to fighting.
In Libya, a mix of militias, tribesmen and political
minorities, demanding a greater share of the country's oil
wealth and more political power, have shut most oilfields and
ports, cutting oil output to 250,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission will release
its weekly commitments of traders report at 3:30 p.m. EST (2030
GMT) on Monday, one day late due to the Christmas holiday on
(Additional reporting by Anna Sussman in New York and Peg
Mackey in London; Editing by Andrew Hay and Marguerita Choy)