Oil prices nudge higher before weekend

Global oil prices edged higher on Friday in low volume deals with many US traders away for a long holiday weekend, while the Gaza truce eased supply concerns in the crude-rich Middle East.

Dealers meanwhile shrugged off rebounding German business confidence and kept one eye on tense negotiations in Brussels over the European Union budget.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in January firmed 28 cents to $110.83 per barrel in afternoon trade in London.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for January or West Texas Intermediate (WTI), added 29 cents to $87.67 a barrel.

Crude futures were steady after people in the United States celebrated Thankgiving and a week of cross-border violence between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed at least 160 people came to an end.

"Oil prices saw virtually no movement yesterday due to the public holiday in the United States," said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

"Price fluctuations are unlikely to be particularly spectacular today either, as US markets are largely closed for the Thanksgiving weekend."

The market see-sawed this week as traders tracked Middle East unrest and fretted over fiscal concerns in both the eurozone and the United States.

Prices had soared $2 a barrel on Monday, striking one-month highs as violence intensified in the conflict, stoking supply worries.

"The ceasefire in the Gaza Strip has eased major oil supply concerns," said Sucden Financial analyst Myrto Sokou.

"However, the political and economic conditions across Middle East remain very tentative, offering mixed signals in the oil market."

Brent oil on Monday jumped to $112.20 a barrel -- the highest level since October 19. New York crude hit $89.80 a barrel -- last reached on October 22.

The market has also found strong support from hopes that top oil consumer the United States will avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts due in January that risks a return to recession.

Crude futures then slumped Tuesday amid fresh economic strains in Europe after Moody's downgraded France's sovereign rating, warning that it was vulnerable to more deterioration as a result of the eurozone debt crisis.

Prices then recovered somewhat on Wednesday, as the market reacted cautiously to news of an Israel-Hamas truce.

Sentiment was partly lifted by a surprise drop in supplies in the United States, which suggested strong demand.

The US Department of Energy announced that the nation's crude supplies sank 1.5 million barrels in the week ended November 16, instead of the gain of 800,000 barrels expected by analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Gasoline stockpiles also unexpectedly fell, by 1.5 million barrels, while distillates, which include heating fuel, a closely watched fuel as winter approaches, dropped by 2.7 million barrels, four times more than estimated.

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    GCQ14.CMX
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