Brent holds above $107, set for biggest gain in five weeks

Manash Goswami
Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 | 11:02 PM ET

* US distillates stocks drop 3.21 mln bbls on sustained cold -EIA

* South Sudan government and rebels sign ceasefire deal

* Syrian opposition demands a future without Assad

* Brent to revisit high of $108.33 -technicals

SINGAPORE, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Brent futures held above $107 a barrel on Friday, as a bitter cold in the United States boosts demand for heating oil and draws down the country's stockpile of crude and distillates.

Distillate stocks plunged three-and-a-half times more than expected, driving U.S. ultra low-sulfur diesel futures (ULSD) futures to their higher this year and helping the U.S. crude benchmark towards its best week in seven.

Brent, poised for its biggest gain in five weeks, also climbed as European refiners shipped diesel to the world's biggest oil consumer.

Brent crude rose 16 cents to $107.74 a barrel by 0322 GMT, after ending 69 cents lower in the previous session after weak factory activity data from China, the world's second-largest oil consumer. U.S. oil increased 23 cents to $97.55, extending gains after settling 59 cents up.

"The US benchmark is drawing support from the fall in heating oil stocks as a result of the severe winter," said Tetsu Emori, a commodities fund manager at Astmax Investment. "It may be helping Brent as European refiners export heating oil to the United States, to the East Coast."

Refiners in Asia, Europe and Russia are shipping around half a million tonnes of heating oil and diesel to the United States this month, with at least a dozen tankers booked so far in January to ship gasoil and diesel to the U.S. East Coast, according to traders and shipping data.

U.S. distillate stocks fell 3.21 million barrels in the week ended Jan. 17, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, compared with analysts expectations of a 900,000 barrel draw. Distillate demand over the past four weeks rose 5.2 percent from a year earlier to 3.46 million barrels, the EIA said.

These supporting factors may result in the U.S. benchmark rising towards $98 a barrel and Brent inching higher to around $108.50, Emori said.


In addition to the weekly EIA data, a monthly report from industry group American Petroleum Institute also showed a rise in U.S. petroleum product demand, reflecting a continued improvement in domestic manufacturing and the broader economy.

Demand in December rose 5.8 percent year-on-year to 19.2 million barrels per day (bpd), the API said. Demand for gasoline rose 4.5 percent to 8.8 million barrels while production of the fuel rose to a record for that month at 9.4 million bpd and was just 66,000 bpd below an all-time high, it said.

Investors are also watching progress in ending the Syrian crisis, which may take some of the supply disruption fears off the market. Syria's opposition leader laid out his demands for talks on ending his country's civil war, calling for the creation of a transitional government that does not include President Bashar al-Assad.

(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)