Oil prices stumble, but Iran sanction fears limit losses

Short Sellers Circle Oil and Gas Stocks as Crude Price Climbs

Oil fell on Monday after a rising rig count in the United States suggested the shale boom is showing no signs of slowing, but prices remain near their highest in more than three years and are set for a second straight month of gains.

U.S. President Donald Trump will decide by May 12 whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of an agreement with six other world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.

Oil prices have surged to levels last seen in 2014 as everything from the conflict in Syria to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed rebels in Yemen stoked concerns over supply disruptions.

Prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's disclosure of the Iranian filed, French President Emmanuel Macron made a joint announcement with the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which the two leaders would work together on preserving the 2015 deal. Still, expanding American drilling activity continues to weigh on prices.

"Prices have rallied as Opec and its allies including Russian Federation have eroded global inventories and as geopolitical risks surrounding the United States and the Middle East have increased this month".

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West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for June delivery traded at $67.48 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 62 cents, at 8.23am in London. Total volume traded was about 22 percent below the 100-day average.

Brent crude futures were up 31 cents at $74.95 a barrel by 12:17 p.m. EDT (1617 GMT). Prices are up 5.2 per cent for the month.

Money managers hold record positions in Brent crude futures and options, lured in by the hefty premium of the front-month June contract over subsequent months that makes it profitable to invest in crude over the longer term.

Trading on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange is closed for a Chinese public holiday.

The World Bank in its latest forecast said global prices of crude oil, gas, and coal will rise by 20 percent this year.

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"They want to try and work out a deal that could be independent of any kind of Trump walk-away", said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho Securities USA Inc.in NY.

"The price rise is due to growing expectations of new US sanctions ... which would doubtless reduce the oil supply from Iran", Commerzbank said in a research note, Reuters reported. "We therefore see oil prices as being well supported".

US drillers added five oil rigs in the week to April 27, bringing the total count to 825, the highest since March 2015, General Electric's Baker Hughes energy services firm said.

But while US producers are accelerating shale drilling in areas in the United States, higher production has not necessarily translated into stronger refining results for some oil companies.

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