Oil Prices May Extend Move Above $100 on Upbeat US Data, Iran Concerns: Survey

Sri Jegarajah|Reporter, CNBC Asia Pacific

Benchmark crude oil prices may extend their move above $100 a barrel after Friday's U.S. jobs report showed the unemployment rate dropped to a two-and-a-half year low and concern grew about OPEC member Iran's nuclear program, CNBC's weekly survey showed.

Still, the debt crisis in Europe remains the wildcard with the week's calendar filled with headline risk events including the European Central Bank's last policy meeting of the year on Thursday and the Eurozone leaders' summit on Friday.

"Bullish for now," said PFGBest's Tom Weber of the short-term outlook.  "However, if euro zone 'resolution euphoria' evaporates as traders and investors conclude there really is no resolution to the sovereign debt/bank capitalization problem, an equity sell-off could ensue and everything would move lower in a race to liquidity."

Many regarded last week's emergency coordinated action by the leading central banks to try and avert a liquidity crunch amongst the European banks as a move that targeted the symptoms rather than the causes of the debt crisis.

"If the Eurozone is a patient that has pneumonia, then the coordinated liquidity action is nothing more than a spoonful of cough medicine to keep the patient quiet, for now," Weber said.

Twelve of the week's sample group of 16 respondents said prices would rise this week while three said they would rise while one said prices would remain unchanged.

"We remain firm bulls and now that we have continued to consolidate above $100 for a few sessions now we can see accelerated gains targeting $101.65 initially and then if broken a quick move up to $103.30/35," said Peter Turville-Ince at Compass Global Markets. "Above here and we are well on our way to $110.00 before years end."

U.S. crude futures, traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, rose 76 cents, or 0.76 percent to settle at $100.96 a barrel on Friday. For the week, front-month crude gained $4.19 or 4.33 percent, the best performance since the week to Nov. 11, when front-month crude gained $4.73, or 5.02 percent.

ICE Brent January crude settled at $109.94 a barrel, posting a 1 percent weekly loss, rising 95 cents, or 0.87 percent, slightly widening Brent's premium over U.S. crude to $8.98, from $8.79 on Thursday Reuters reported.

Mark Waggoner of Excel Futures, one of the few bears in the survey, expects prices to retreat this week: "The rally will not be sustained. Lower from $102.50-103.00. Market doesn't like to be above $100.00 right now. Look for market to head toward $90.00 before the end of the year. The global coordinated liquidity action made people feel good for a moment, but reality will set back in soon. China will come into focus as slowing occurs."

China releases official November data this week for inflation, industrial production, consumer spending and fixed asset investment. HSBC Flash PMI released last month showed factory activity contracted in November by its most in 32 months.

Oil markets are pricing in fears of possible supply disruptions from OPEC producer Iran on escalating concerns over the country's nuclear program and a possible embargo of oil exports.

Iran warned the West on Sunday any move to block its oil exports would more than double crude prices with devastating consequences on a fragile global economy, Reuters reported. "As soon as such an issue is raised seriously the oil price would soar to above $250 a barrel," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in a newspaper interview.

"Given that they are one of the world's biggest producers this could cause the oil price to rise dramatically if we actually see supply issues," Compass Global Markets Turville-Ince said. " We are hearing rhetoric of $150-$250 prices if this was to occur which is adding even more upside pressure in the short-term."