US crude fired up by falling stockpiles, settles over $100

U.S. crude oil futures rose by nearly $1 per barrel on Friday after government data showed U.S. oil inventories fell for the fourth straight week while Brent was supported by civil unrest in Africa that has cut off supplies.

Brent's gains were capped as traders sold contracts to unwind the spread between the European benchmark and its American counterpart.

The international contract was curbed after government forces said they had defeated South Sudanese rebels in Malakal, the capital of the country's major oil producing Upper Nile state, after four days of intense fighting. Escalating violence in South Sudan had threatened to reduce its crude output further, adding to supply outages in Libya, where production is running at a mere 250,000 barrels per day (bpd).

Prices were supported by U.S. government data that showed crude oil stocks in the U.S. fell by 4.7 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 20, double the forecast of a 2.3 million draw.

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Brent crude rose 20 cents to above $112 a barrel, still at the highest since Dec. 3. U.S. crude jumped by 77 cents to end the session at $100.32 a barrel, its highest since October 21.

The spread between the two benchmarks narrowed by close to $1 per barrel at one point to $11.45. It was last trading at $11.77.

U.S. oil futures broke above the $100 mark for the first time since Oct. 21, initially on a technical move. Traders bought contracts to unwind positions on ensuing momentum after the February contract broke above the 100-day moving average in the previous session, some analysts said.

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