Oil market balanced on politics

March 29, 2012 at 5:44 PM
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NEW YORK, March 29 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices slipped to less than $104 per barrel Thursday but sharp drops are unexpected as traders wait on decisions concerning national oil stockpiles.

Politically, the game of chicken is already on. U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as the leaders of France and Britain, is contemplating whether to release national reserves to balance supply losses resulting from sanctions imposed on Iran.

The sanctions are meant to force an end to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Analysts say Iran will bet nations imposing sanctions will cave as the price of oil escalates.

That makes Obama's decision that much more difficult. If he releases oil from U.S. inventories too early, it may help keep prices low at gas stations. But that is a strategy that relies on a timely conclusion to the sanctions against Iran.

More than a game of chicken, the political positioning resembles a contest to see which side can hold its breath the longest. How long can Iran tolerate falling oil revenue? On the other hand, how long can the Obama administration tolerate rising prices at gas stations, especially in an election year?

On the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday, May delivery West Texas Intermediate light sweet crude lost $2.07 to hit $103.34 per barrel. Home heating oil added 0.94 cents in late trading to $3.1792 per gallon. Reformulated gasoline gained 0.81 cents to $3.3478 per gallon.

Henry Hub natural gas prices gained 2.3 cents to $2.172 per million British thermal units.

The national average price of unleaded gasoline gained one penny, reaching $3.921 per gallon Thursday, up from Wednesday's $3.911, AAA said.

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