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US Crude Oil May Test $100 This Week, Building Case for SPR Oil: Survey

Sri Jegarajah|Reporter, CNBC Asia Pacific
Sunday, 2 Sep 2012 | 9:09 PM ET

Benchmark oil prices will likely extend gains this week after Fed Chief Ben Bernanke kept stimulus in play at his speech in Jackson Hole and as the industry assesses the damage in the Gulf of Mexico after tropical storm Isaac forced the closure of almost all offshore oil production.

Oil Rig
Oil Rig

Cyclical commodity markets, including crude oil, will also be keenly awaiting Friday's August U.S. jobs reportfor direction and a significantly sub-par number this week could build the case for further action by the central bank. Thursday's decision by the European Central Bank and HSBC's final reading on China manufacturing will also be critical.

Four out of six, or two-thirds of respondents in CNBC's oil sentiment survey, expect prices to rise this week, one expects a decline while another forecasts prices to trade sideways.

Brent crude settled up $1.92 at $114.57 a barrel on Friday, having earlier reached a session peak of $114.78. Brent gained 9.2 percent in August, the biggest monthly percentage rise since prices jumped by 10.5 percent in February, adding to a 7 percent rally in July.

U.S. crude rose $1.85 to settle at $96.47 on Friday, having earlier risen briefly above the 200-day moving average at $96.68, a key technical resistance level closely watched by traders. U.S. crude gained 9.6 percent in August, the biggest percentage gain since October 2011.

Broadly, stimulus-related upside momentum remains intact, UBS Global Commodity Analyst Tom Price told CNBC's 'Squawk Box'on Monday.

"QE is a potential support. The hurricane impact in North America is another potential support. We were basically forecasting about $95 for WTI in Q4 and about $105 for Brent in Q4," Price said. "But it doesn't include supply side shocks like the hurricane and as a house we weren't so warm on the idea of QE but after this weekend, perhaps that risk is lifted and so maybe there's some upside risk to our forecast at the moment. So perhaps $100 for WTI."

Still, gains may be limited as rumors continue about a release of strategic oil reserves by the U.S. or in coordination with Europe or other OECD member states as U.S. crude prices head towards $100 a barrel and consumers struggle with higher gasoline prices.

"Oil prices act like interest rates...they have a ubiquitous impact on economies so a rise in oil price would be a deep concern for central banks around the world," Price said. "And so if they had the ability to counter that shift on the supply side, I think we should expect it to happen."

Greg Priddy, Director, Global Oil at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said a confluence of several events including the impacts of Hurricane Isaac and a perception of heightened risk related to Iran "will set the stage" for a likely decision to release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

"The timing of the announcement would be before the end of the second week of September, and could possibly come late Friday or over the weekend, in the interregnum between the Democratic and Republican national conventions, if outages from the hurricane persist," Priddy said in a report on August 29.

"The release will probably be coordinated with other members of the International Energy Agency (IEA), but a lack of consensus would not inhibit a U.S. unilateral decision."

Others disagreed, saying strategic oil reserves should only be released when crisis conditions due to conflict, natural disaster or extreme weather caused a material disruption in supply .

From a technical perspective, Dhiren Sarin, Chief Technical Strategist - Asia-Pac at Barclays Capital, recommended buying any dips towards $93.30 in WTI crude. "Our bullish confidence would increase if the market is able to recover above $98.30 as this would indicate a test of the more psychologically important level at $100."

—By CNBC's Sri Jegarajah

Follow Sri Jegarajah on Twitter: @cnbcSri

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