* Obama says "isolation will deepen" if Moscow continues
* U.S. crude stocks rise 6.6 million bbl; Cushing stocks
drop by 1.3 million bbl
* Iran May exports above agreed level
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
SINGAPORE, March 27 Brent crude held steady
around $107 a barrel on Thursday as investors took stock of
comments by U.S. President Barack Obama hinting at tougher
economic sanctions against Russia, including in the energy
The United States and the European Union agreed on Wednesday
to work together to prepare possible further economic sanctions
in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and to make Europe
less dependent on Russian gas.
Obama warned at a news conference that "the isolation will
deepen, sanctions will increase" for Russia, the world's biggest
oil producer, if Moscow continues its current course.
Brent for May delivery was down 8 cents at $106.95 a
barrel at 0311 GMT, after settling 4 cents higher.
"Brent didn't react much last night despite Obama beating
his chest over Crimea. But this is something investors continue
to monitor very, very closely," said Ben Le Brun, a market
analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.
"I think until the situation is resolved, there will still
be a risk premium in oil prices," he said.
U.S. crude for May delivery traded 10 cents higher at
$100.36 a barrel, following a $1.07 rise in the previous
The contract was supported by a 1.33 million barrel fall in
oil stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub, the delivery
point for U.S. crude futures.
Stocks there have fallen due to the January start-up of
TransCanada's 700,000-barrel per day Gulf Coast
pipeline. But a surge in crude stocks in the U.S. Gulf Coast to
a record high suggests the supply from Cushing is not being
absorbed by the country's largest refinery hub.
Crude oil inventories nationwide rose 6.6
million barrels, much higher than analysts' expectations for a
2.7-million-barrel build, with most of the build on the Gulf
NIGERIA OIL THEFT
Following Tuesday's positive U.S. consumer confidence data,
investors will watch final fourth quarter GDP numbers and weekly
jobless claims later in the day for further signs of economic
growth in the world's biggest oil consumer.
"We expect to see more encouraging signs in the U.S.
economy, and all things being equal, data should continue to
support oil markets," said Le Brun.
Iran's oil exports have stayed above levels allowed under
Western sanctions for a fifth month, according to sources who
track tanker movements.
Under a deal agreed last year to ease some restrictions on
Theran, Iran's exports are supposed to be held at an average 1
million bpd for the six months to July 20. But shipments to Asia
have topped that level at least since November, with March
exports averaging 1.3 million bpd.
Oil theft looks set to push Nigeria off its spot as top
African crude oil exporter in May and exports could fall to
their lowest since records began in 2009.
A preliminary loading programme, that excluded the Forcados
and Ebok crude grades, showed Nigerian exports at around 1.59
million bpd in May, far below the highs above 2.2 million bpd
reached in 2011. Angolan exports in May were set to be 1.67
million bpd, a provisional shipping list indicated.
Royal Dutch Shell declared force majeure on
Nigeria's Forcados crude exports on Tuesday due to a pipeline
leak caused by oil theft.
(Reporting By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Richard