London Oil fell from a nine-month high after a euro-area industry index unexpectedly declined, signalling a slowdown in demand and countering concern that a conflict between Iran and Western nations may disrupt supplies.
Futures slipped as much as 0.6 per cent in New York, after climbing their highest since May as United Nations inspectors in Iran were denied access to a suspected nuclear-related military base. Equities declined and the euro erased gains against the dollar after an index based on a survey of euro-region purchasing managers dropped below 50, indicating a contraction.
The figures indicate that "Eurozone economies will remain very weak in the months ahead," Andy Sommer, a senior trader at EGL AG in Dietikon, Switzerland, said. "That means oil demand in the Eurozone remains weak."
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for April, lost 36 cents to $105.89 a barrel. The contract earlier rose to $106.41, the most since May 5. Front-month prices have gained 13 per cent in the past year.
Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April fell 11 cents to $121.55 a barrel in London midday deals.
The European benchmark contract's premium to New York-traded West Texas Intermediate was little changed at $15.36.
Prices rose earlier after United Nations inspectors in Iran were denied access to a suspected nuclear site, raising concern that tensions between Opec's (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) second-biggest producer and Western nations may escalate.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran refused permission to visit the Parchin military base during two days of talks that ended yesterday. An Iranian military commander said his nation would consider pre-emptive action if threatened.
"The fact that the inspectors couldn't see what they wanted to see is also fuel on the fire," Gerrit Zambo, a trader at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich, said. "Any action, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, will certainly push up oil prices much higher than these levels."
Israel and the US have said all options are on the table in ensuring the nation doesn't acquire atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is for energy.
"We will no more wait to see enemy action against us," the state-run Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of the general staff of Iran's armed forces, as saying.
Speculation that oil supplies will be disrupted has increased as tension between Iran and Western nations escalates, David Greely, head of energy research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York, said in a report yesterday. The bank maintained a recommendation that investors buy Brent contracts for July 2012 to take advantage of rising prices.
The Islamic Republic said it cut oil sales to the UK and France and has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz in response to tightening sanctions over its nuclear programme.
Oil's rally in New York may stall after the 14-day relative strength index climbed above 70, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A reading higher than that level signals futures may have risen too quickly and further gains probably aren't sustainable. Investors tend to sell contracts when prices are considered overbought.
"One hundred and twenty dollars, for us, is a cap for prices," Sommer said. "Without new supporting bullish news, some reverse had to be expected."
An index of manufacturing in China, the second-biggest oil user, from HSBC Holdings and Markit Economics came in at 49.7 for February, signalling factory activity will shrink a fourth month as Europe's sovereign debt crisis damps exports and the housing market cools. A reading below 50 points to a contraction.
Agreement on a second bailout for Greece may not be enough to end Europe's debt crisis and countries in the euro area periphery must reduce debt and improve competitiveness, Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean said in a speech yesterday in Glasgow, Scotland.
Crude inventories in the US, the world's biggest user of the commodity, probably climbed to the highest level in almost five months as rising North American output and the planned reversal of the Seaway pipeline bolstered stockpiles, the Bloomberg News survey showed.
Gasoline supplies declined 250,000 barrels last week, according to the median of eight analyst estimates in the survey.
Distillate inventories, a category that includes diesel and heating oil, probably fell 1.38 million barrels.
Iran 'will lower oil exports if demand for crude drops'
Iran would lower its oil exports if it sees demand for its crude dropping and will not sell to any company that sells it to Britain or France, Ahmad Qalebani, Iran's deputy oil minister, was quoted as saying by the Iranian students' news agency ISNA Wednesday.
"Iran will not sell its oil to any company that gives its oil to Britain or France," Qalebani was quoted as saying.
Separately, the official IRNA news agency quoted Qalebani as saying Iran would still be willing to deal with French and British companies provided they do not take Iranian crude to their own countries.