March 26, 2018 / 2:00 AM / in 4 months

Brent crude oil futures above $70 per barrel on Middle East tension

* Supplies could be disrupted if U.S. re-imposes sanctions on Iran

* Saudi Arabia favours extended supply cuts into 2019

* China launches Shanghai crude oil futures

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE, March 26 (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Monday with international Brent crude futures opening above $70 per barrel for the first time since January.

Prices were lifted by expectations that OPEC-leader Saudi Arabia may extend supply cuts into 2019, as well as concerns that the United States may re-introduce sanctions against Iran.

In Asia, meanwhile, Monday saw the launch of Shanghai crude oil futures , potentially marking the dawn of a new oil price benchmark to rival dominant Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI).

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $66.06 a barrel at 0157 GMT, up 18 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their previous close.

Brent crude futures were at $70.74 per barrel, up 29 cents, or 0.4 percent.

“Oil prices are on the ups driven by rising geopolitical risk in the Middle East,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia/Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

“President Donald Trump continues to suggest the U.S. will pull out from (the) Iran nuclear deal, which raises the spectre of bringing back sanctions on the country and severely limiting Tehran’s ability to export crude oil,” Innes said.

Prices have also been supported by statements from Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), that production cuts that have been in place since 2017 may be extended into 2019.

An agreement between OPEC and some other producers, led by Russia, to withhold supplies in order to prop up prices came into force in January 2017, and is currently scheduled for expiry by the end of this year.

NEW FUTURES

Financial oil markets have long been dominated by Europe’s Brent and America’s WTI.

That may begin to change gradually going forward, as Monday saw the launch of Chinese crude oil futures out of Shanghai - Asia, despite being the world’s biggest and fastest growing oil consumer, has so far not had a benchmark.

Few analysts doubt that Asia is overdue a financial oil price benchmark, and that China with its vast consumer and production base is a prime location for it.

“The government (in Beijing) seems determined to support it, and I hear a number of firms are being asked or pressured to trade on it, which could help,” said Jeff Brown, President of energy consultancy FGE.

Despite this, Brown said there were concerns over regulatory interference, as seen in other Chinese financial commodity markets, including iron ore and coal.

“The fact that the government is encouraging the exchange and also is not shy about stepping in to occasionally change the rules may discourage international players,” Brown said.

Reporting by Henning Gloystein Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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