* Leading U.S. economic indicators support oil briefly
* Gasoline futures rise after report of refinery shutdown
* Eyes on Ukraine peace deal, further sanctions on Russia
(Updates prices, adds U.S. statements on Syria, Ukraine)
By Sabina Zawadzki
NEW YORK, April 21 Brent crude oil strengthened
slightly while U.S. crude futures were briefly supported by
positive economic data on Monday but prices were range-bound in
low volumes following Easter Sunday with no significant
escalation in tensions over Ukraine.
Gasoline futures led the U.S. oil complex with traders and
analysts citing a report of an upcoming refinery shutdown on the
Gulf Coast as supporting the contract.
But volumes were low in all markets as traders kept to the
sidelines after the Easter holiday weekend with the London
market remaining closed for Easter Monday.
U.S. crude futures jumped 30 cents a barrel after the
Conference Board said its leading economic indicators, a gauge
of future economic activity, rose in March.
But they gradually backed off the gains throughout the day,
settling 7 cents higher at $104.37 a barrel. Brent crude
settled 42 cents higher at $109.95 a barrel, having briefly
flirted with $110 a barrel.
"My feeling is that we're still concerned about Ukraine and
we're still getting a little support from the economy ... But
we're not up by much and volumes are still light because people
are out for the holidays," said Phil Flynn, analyst with Price
The May contract for U.S. crude oil futures will expire at
the end of Tuesday but analysts said they did not expect
volatility stemming from a switch to the June contract.
Brent crude oil found support from the war of words between
Russia and the United States over Ukraine, where a peace accord
agreed in Geneva last week appeared to unravel after three died
in the east in a Sunday attack on a checkpoint.
With U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev, the U.S. state
department suggested Washington was considering sanctioning
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
Moscow, meanwhile, eased rules for Russian speakers in the
former Soviet Union to acquire Russian citizenship.
The crisis in Ukraine has led to the worst confrontation
between the United States and Russia since the Cold War and has
supported oil prices due to concerns over what impact any future
sanctions may have in particular on oil supply.
"We may see Brent rise further by $1 to $2 a barrel if the
Ukraine crisis worsens, but it will retrace as the overall
market is well supplied," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity sales
manager at brokerage Newedge Japan.
Brent also strengthened after the state department said it
had indications that chemical weapons were used in Syria and
would examine allegations that the government was responsible.
U.S. GASOLINE SPIKES
RBOB gasoline futures rose over 1.0 percent earlier
in the session and by 3:50 p.m. EDT (1950 GMT) they were 1.05
percent higher at $3.0867 a gallon.
Traders cited a Bloomberg report that Motiva Enterprises
would shut a crude unit and a catalytic reformer unit later this
month at its 600,000 barrel per day Port Arthur refinery in
Texas, the largest in the country.
Motiva, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell Plc
and Saudi Aramco, did not respond to
requests for confirmation or denial of the report.
"That's enough in a low volume day to make RBOB outperform
the rest of the complex. All in all though, a ten-day outage in
a shoulder period is not a big deal," said Addison Armstrong,
senior director of market research at Tradition Energy.
For a 24-hr analysis on Brent: here
(Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London and Manash
Goswami in Singapore; Editing by Jane Baird and Tom Brown,
Marguerita Choy and Chris Reese)