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Brent Claws Above $109; Cyprus Moves Markets

Brent crude clawed back above $109 a barrel in choppy Monday trading, with oil undermined by falling stocks and a stronger dollar amid an unusual bank bailout proposal for Cyprus threatened to trigger fresh turmoil in the euro zone.

A proposal that Cyprus would tax depositors as part of its bailout plan sparked fears of a run on some banks in the region, driving down the euro and other riskier assets such as Asian shares and base metals.

However, a series of recent positive numbers from the world's top oil consumer the United States and worries over supply disruption helped stem further losses in oil.


Brent futures last traded at $109.40 a barrel, down 42 cents after probing levels below $108 per barrel in early dealings. U.S. light, sweet crude recovered from a more than one percent plunge to trade around $93.71 per barrel, up about 26 cents.

(Read More: Oil Bulls Bank on Fed to Fuel Rally: Survey)

"The bailout conditions for Cyprus, specifically the unprecedented removal of funds from depositors' accounts, is sending share and commodity prices lower," said Tamas Varga, oil analyst at oil brokers PVM Oil Associates in London.

(Read More: Cyprus Bailout 'Disaster' Risks New Euro Crisis)

"This step is causing shivers throughout the financial world, and it has created the fear that a reaction in other peripheral eurozone countries could hit the whole banking sector in Europe," Varga added.

(Read More: Would You Pay a Tax on Your Savings for a State Bailout?)

Oil markets will remain volatile for the next few days as investors watch for any spillover of the developments in Cyprus to other EU nations, analysts said.

Cypriot ministers were trying on Monday to revise a plan to seize money from bank deposits before a parliamentary vote on Tuesday that will secure the island's financial rescue or could lead to its default, with reverberations across the euro zone.

Risk Off

The uncertainty surrounding the proposed bailout drove investors to the safety of gold, which rose above $1,600 an ounce for the first time in more than two weeks.

Technical signals are mixed for Brent as it is not clear that a rebound from the March 13 low has completed, Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao said. U.S. oil may drop to $91 as it failed to break resistance at $93.72 for the second time.

Further losses in oil were capped by expectations of a steady revival in demand growth from the United States, and comments from Saudi Arabia's top energy official that oil prices near current levels won't hurt the economy.

Almost all U.S. states began 2013 with lower unemployment rates than they had at the start of 2012, according to Labor Department data.

Current oil prices will have no impact on growth in Asia, the oil minister for top exporter Saudi Arabia, Ali al-Naimi, said in Hong Kong. The region's biggest economies, including China, have struggled with rising energy costs in their efforts to boost growth.

Worries of an escalation in a standoff between the West and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme could also help ensure prices do not fall much further. Concerns of supply disruption from the Middle East have kept Brent above $100 a barrel through most of 2012 and this year.

Further losses in oil were capped by expectations of a steady revival in demand growth from the United States.

U.S. manufacturing output bounced back in February in the latest signal of strength in an economy that is showing clear momentum. Factory production increased 0.8 percent last month after falling 0.3 percent in January, the Federal Reserve said. The gain was broad based and double what economists had expected.

Worries of an escalation in a standoff between the West and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme could also help ensure prices don't fall much further. Concerns of supply disruption from the Middle East have kept Brent above $100 a barrel through most of 2012 and this year.