* Obama says “isolation will deepen” if Moscow continues current course
* 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 (Reuters) - 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 sector.
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 session.
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 Coast.
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 Pullin)