NYMEX crude holds gains in Asia on view China may ease, Greece eyed

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Investing.com - Crude oil prices gained in early Asia on Monday on views that China may move to ease monetary policy further in response to a slump in imports and downbeat exports in data released at the weekend as well as keeping a wary eye on Greece.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil for delivery in March rose 1.03% to $52.68 a barrel.

Greece's Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras reiterated Sunday that he will not ask for an extension of the current EU funding program ending Feb. 28, and will seek a new deal with the creditors as his government is not recognizing past agreements.

At the weekend, China reported that exports fell 3.2% in January and imports slumped 19.7% in yuan terms with the overall trade balance at a positive $60.3 billion. In dollar terms, exports slumped 3.3% from a year earlier last month, missing expectations for a 6.3% increase, while imports tumbled 19.9%, much worse than forecasts for a decline of 3.0%.

The data is expected to put more downwards pressure on the yuan exchange rate. But the government has stopped short of engineering a sharp depreciation of the exchange rate, despite similar moves by other global central banks.

The Asian nation is the world's second largest oil consumer after the U.S. and has been the engine of strengthening demand.

Last week, Crude oil futures rallied more than $1 on Friday, with prices continuing to recover from recent lows as some investors bet that a bottom had been reached after a seven-month long rout.

For the week, New York-traded oil futures climbed $4.10, or 7.15%, the second straight weekly gain and the biggest advance since February 2011.

Nymex oil prices are still down almost 52% from a recent peak of $107.50 hit in June.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent for April delivery soared $1.17, or 2.03%, on Friday to settle at $58.68 a barrel by close of trade.

The April Brent contract rallied $6.00, or 9.08%, on the week, also the second consecutive weekly advance and the biggest increase since 2011.

London-traded Brent prices sky-rocketed 17.7% over the past two-weeks, the largest two-week gain since 1998. However, prices are still down approximately 50% since June, when futures climbed near $116.

The spread between the Brent and the WTI crude contracts stood at $6.99 a barrel by close of trade on Friday, compared to $4.75 in the preceding week.

Prices have been well-supported in recent sessions amid speculation productions cuts by drillers in the U.S and global oil companies will alleviate a glut in supplies.

Industry research groupBaker Hughes said Friday that the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. fell by another 87 in the past week to 1,136, the lowest since December 2011.

The number of oil rigs has declined in 14 of the last 17 weeks since hitting an all-time high of 1,609 in mid-October.

The bullish news came after oil major BP (NYSE:BP) said earlier in the week that it would cut capital expenditure next year, following similar decisions by other major energy companies.

Oil prices have fallen sharply in recent months as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted calls to cut output, while the U.S. pumped at the fastest pace in more than three decades, creating a glut in global supplies.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy added 257,000 jobs in January, far more than the 234,000 forecast by economists. December's figure was revised to 329,000 from a previously reported 252,000.

While the unemployment rate ticked up to 5.7% last month from December's 5.6%, hourly earnings and the participation rate both saw increases in January.

The upbeat data added to the view that the strengthening economic recovery may prompt the Federal Reserve to start raising rates from near zero levels as early as June.

The euro remained under pressure as concerns over Greek debt negotiations continued to weigh on market sentiment.

Standard and Poor's downgraded Greece to B- from B late Friday, one notch above default, and kept the outlook at "negative", indicating that further ratings cuts are possible.

In the week ahead, the euro zone is to release what will be closely watched data on fourth quarter economic growth on Friday.

Investors will also be awaiting U.S. data on retail sales, jobless claims and consumer sentiment for further indications on the strength of the economic recovery.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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