* Iraq exports 2.53 million bpd from southern terminals, near record
* Oil prices to trend lower unless U.S. takes direct action -analyst
* U.S. crude stocks seen down last week -Reuters poll (Updates prices)
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, June 24 (Reuters) - Brent crude slipped below $114 a barrel on Tuesday, as data showing near-record high oil exports from Iraq indicated supplies remained unaffected by the escalating violence at OPEC’s No. 2 producer.
Exports from Iraq’s southern terminals averaged 2.53 million barrels per day (bpd) up to June 21, according to shipping data and Reuters sources, even as Sunni Islamist insurgents captured swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq.
This compared with May’s average of 2.58 million bpd - the highest since 2003. Total exports from the country’s northern and southern ports hit a record high of 2.8 million bpd in February.
“The oil markets look going softer unless the Sunnis start blowing up refineries or ports which they won’t do because it cuts off income,” said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive of Sydney commodity research firm Barratt Bulletin.
Brent crude dropped 24 cents to $113.88 by 0645 GMT, off a nine-month top of $115.71 reached last Thursday. The benchmark closed 0.6 percent down on Monday, it’s biggest drop since May 16, as Iraq supply worries eased.
U.S. crude fell 37 cents to $105.80 a barrel, after dropping 1 percent in the previous session, its biggest slide since late May.
U.S. intervention in the Iraq crisis, with air strikes or other military action, could lead to higher oil prices, but Barratt said he does not expect the United States to take such action given Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on Monday.
Kerry promised “intense and sustained” U.S. support for Iraq, but said the divided country would only survive if its leaders took urgent steps to bring it together.
President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 American advisers to Iraq but stopped short of granting Baghdad’s request for air strikes to counter the advance by Sunni militants.
“I think oil prices should go lower unless the U.S. can be seen as an aggravator,” Barratt added.
But Tetsu Emori, commodity fund manager at Japan’s Astmax Investment, said he was still quite bullish on oil.
There is a greater risk of supply disruptions and higher oil prices if the Sunni insurgents push towards Iraq’s southern oil fields which produce most of Iraq’s 3.3 million bpd of oil, said Emori. “I don’t think oil prices have hit a peak,” he said.
In the longer term Brent could top $120 and U.S. crude $115 by the end of the northern summer on strong demand, Emori said, adding that a deterioration in the Iraq crisis could add a $5 premium to push Brent up to $125 and U.S. crude to $120.
U.S. oil prices could also draw support from forecasts for a drop in crude inventories. A Reuters survey forecast U.S. crude stocks fell 1.3 million barrels on average last week, while product stockpiles rose.
Investors are watching other geopolitical events for clues on oil and energy prices.
Leaders in two main rebel areas of Ukraine’s east will observe a ceasefire with Ukrainian forces until June 27 in a move that will run parallel with a truce by Ukrainian forces as Russia is urged by the European Union to back the peace pact.
Crude exports from Libya’s Hariga port have again been blocked by protesting guards demanding unpaid wages, a spokesman for operator Arabian Gulf Oil Co said on Monday. (Editing by Himani Sarkar)