Oil Steady Above $96 as Cyprus Banks Reopen

The price of oil was up slightly Thursday after climbing more than $4 in less than a week as financially troubled Cyprus reopened its banks after nearly two weeks.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for May delivery was up 8 cents to $96.66 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 24 cents to close at a five-week high of $96.58 on Wednesday.

The oil market was tempered by caution as Cypriot banks reopened for the first time since March 16. The banks were shut as political leaders negotiated an emergency bailout to prevent a banking collapse. The contentious deal reached Monday will force losses on bigger depositors, which many analysts have said could spark a crisis of confidence in banking across the 17 countries that use the euro.

No disturbances were reported as people across Cyprus formed long but orderly lines at ATMs and banks.

In the prior four sessions, oil gained $4.13, driven by strong U.S. economic data. The trend continued Thursday as the U.S. Commerce Department revised higher its figures for economic growth during the last three months of 2012, to 0.4 percent from an earlier estimate of 0.1 percent.

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that crude supplies for the week ending March 22 increased by 3.25 million barrels. Ample supplies tend to keep a lid on energy prices.

The supply build "was due primarily to a sharp increase in imports which could not be offset by higher crude oil processing by the refineries," said a report from Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was down 56 cents to $109.13 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline fell 2.94 cents to $3.0824 a gallon.
  • Heating oil lost 1.16 cents to $3.0252 a gallon.
  • Natural gas dropped 2.8 cents to $4.04 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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