Oil prices up in Asian trade, eyes on Obama speech

Oil prices rose in Asia on Wednesday, with investors keeping to the sidelines ahead of US President Barack Obama's closely watched State of the Union address, analysts said.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March increased eight cents to $97.59 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery gained five cents to $118.71.

"The speech may affect the US economy as it a good opportunity for Obama to address lawmakers on spending cuts," said Yang Weiming, premium client manager at IG Markets Singapore.

"Energy traders are waiting on the sidelines with a lack of true direction," he told AFP.

The US Congress and the White House are seeking an alternative to automatic spending cuts worth hundreds of billions of dollars, known as the sequester, that are due to take effect at the end of the month.

Feuding Republicans and Democrats in Congress are under pressure to reach a deal to avoid the cuts, which could lead to thousands of jobs being lost and slashes to military spending.

Obama has also been under pressure by Republican foes to abandon his focus on taxes and find a way to boost growth and cut the US deficit.

The US is the world's largest oil consuming nation and the health of its economy is a key influence on global oil prices.

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