PERTH Brent crude inched above $125 on Thursday, after falling more than a dollar the previous session, as traders balanced a firm dollar and bulging U.S. crude stocks with lingering concerns about tensions between Iran and the West.
London ICE Brent crude edged up eight cents to $125.05 per barrel by 0728 GMT, after settling down $1.25 at $124.97 on Wednesday. The April contract will expire at the end of Thursday's session.
U.S. April crude rose 46 cents to $105.89 a barrel, after settling down $1.28 at $105.43 on Wednesday.
"Today I think the market is reacting to the mixed data coming out of the U.S. EIA crude inventory report. It was bearish on the crude side in that the build was a little bit higher than the market was expecting," said Natalie Robertson, an analyst at ANZ Bank.
U.S. government data on Wednesday showed crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub up 2.5 million barrels to a nine-month high. Cushing posted its biggest 8-week build since early 2009, and stood at its highest since June 2011.
A stronger U.S. dollar, supported by growing optimism over a U.S. economic recovery, also pressured oil prices. The greenback hit an 11-month high against the yen and a one-month peak against the euro.
The rising U.S. dollar and U.S. crude stocks build offset support from geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, which have provided a $10-15 premium to Brent crude prices, Robertson said.
Mounting tensions between Iran and the West over the OPEC producer's disputed nuclear program have elevated crude oil prices in recent months, with Brent gaining more than 16 percent so far this year and U.S. oil up about 7 percent.
"I am still bullish about the oil price in the short-to-medium term with demand likely to be strong due to recent reports of strong U.S. employment and retail sales data. Supply issues from Iran are also still lingering," said Miguel Audencial, a trader with CMC Markets in Sydney.
In a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama said the window for a diplomatic solution with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program was shrinking.
The two leaders also discussed the possibility of releasing emergency oil reserves, the first sign that Obama is starting to test global support for an effort to knock back near-record fuel prices.
Iran on Wednesday said it welcomed the resumption of stalled nuclear talks with six world powers, saying the two sides should set "the date and the venue", Iranian media reported.
(Additional reporting by Randy Fabi in Singapore; Editing by Miral Fahmy)