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US Crude May Hit $100 on Payrolls, Geo-Politics: Survey

Monday, 6 May 2013 | 9:14 PM ET
Jim Seida | NBC News

Benchmark U.S. crude prices may test $100 a barrel this week boosted by forecast-beating job numbers and as renewed tensions in the Middle East stoke fears of supply disruptions, according to CNBC's weekly oil sentiment survey.

Nine out of 11 respondents, or 82 percent, expect prices to gain while the remaining two believe profit-taking may push levels lower, the poll showed.

U.S. crude oil futures in the Asian session retreated modestly after rising to a one-month high close to $97 a barrel on Monday after Israel carried out a second air strike in Syria. The oil market extended Friday's 1.4 percent gain after Labor Department data showed the U.S. economy created 165,000 jobs last month, above economists' average estimate of a 148,000 increase. The unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against escalating a fraught situation in Syria after Israel struck targets near Damascus on Sunday, targeting what its officials said were Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah, Reuters reported. Iran called on the region to unite against Israel and said it was ready to train the Damascus government's army.

"$100 is on its way," Jonathan Barratt, editor and Founder of commodities newsletter Barratt's Bulletin, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box" on Monday. "It's a period of uncertainties."

The strike by Israel comes as the U.S. considers how to respond to indications that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons in its bloody civil war. President Barack Obama has described the use of such weapons as a "red line," and the administration is weighing its options - including possible military action.

"If they see the damming evidence, they aren't afraid to use military power," Barratt said. "Because of that, the [oil price] premium will be building quickly."

Commerzbank commodity analysts led by Eugen Weinberg Added: "There is now speculation about possible Western military intervention in the conflict in Syria, which could spark a massive escalation of the conflict."

Brent crude's move to $105 on Monday "also somewhat reduces the pressure on OPEC to take action at its meeting in Vienna at the end of the month," Commerzbank said in a report. Some OPEC countries require an oil price of over $100 to finance their spending needs."

(Read More: Possible US Budget Fix: Sell Out Strategic Oil)

Amongst the bears, Excel Futures' Mark Waggoner said prices may "back off" after a spike from the employment numbers as markets re-focus on the well-stocked global inventories. U.S. oil stockpiles rose to the highest level in at least three decades last week, while gasoline supplies in the high-demand Northeast U.S. are 11 percent above average for this time of year.

Higher oil prices - should they remain elevated and close to triple digits heading into the U.S. summer driving season - may act as tax on consumers, constraining spending.

The price of a gallon of gasoline rose for the first time in eight weeks in the United States as crude oil prices climbed and profit margins at refiners and gas stations were squeezed, pointing to more increases ahead, according to a widely followed survey released on Sunday, Reuters reported.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline rose 0.84 cents in the past two weeks to $3.5447 per gallon on May 3, according the Lundberg Survey of about 2,500 gas stations across the United States.

(Read More: Pro: Why I'm Selling Crude Oil)

Still, $100 oil is not a foregone conclusion since even bullish forecasters remain cautious with some warning gains may not hold. "I expect WTI [West Texas Intermediate, the grade of crude oil for the U.S. futures contract] to work higher to the $98 area, fail to break through, then move lower from there," said Tom Weber, senior commodity advisor at Portfolio Managers, Inc. Commodity Futures & Options in Los Angeles.

(Find the Brent crude quote here)