Oil Remains Upbeat as Brent Crude Trades $77.07

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Any oil sanctions would not actually kick in for six months, yet oil prices hit new multi-year highs at the mere idea of one of OPEC's largest oil exporters having to reduce the amount of fuel it brings to market.

Brent crude futures, the global benchmark for oil prices, were at $78.30 a barrel at 4.32am GMT, up 7c from their last close and not far off a three-and-a-half-year high of $78.53 a barrel reached the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $70.88 a barrel, down 8 cents, though still not far off their November 2014 high of $71.89 a barrel reached last week. Prices rose 26 cents to close at $70.96 on Monday.

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It is unclear how U.S. sanctions will affect Iranian oil. American measures could cut the Iran's crude exports, and traders are watching whether Opec and its allies will end their agreement to curb supply and increase production instead to fill in the gap. The global benchmark crude traded at a $7.30 premium to July WTI. Looking at trading volumes, the recent move up has been accompanied by lower volumes. The contract fell 1.2% on Monday.

"US sanctions on Iran take centre stage in the oil market", said Norbert Ruecker, head of macro and commodity at Julius Baer Group in Zurich.

While forecasts vary from "little impact" anticipated by Barclays to losses of 500,000 to 1.5 million barrels a day predicted by BMI Research and consultant FGE, UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei said "don't worry about supply". The previous round of sanctions cut Iran's output in half.

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In Beijing, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the Asian nation's invitation, marking his first stop on a diplomatic tour after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal.

"Gas prices are their highest in years, yet that doesn't seem to be slowing motorists down", said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA. While European buyers flag concerns over the financing issues of trade with Iran as a potential stop to buying Iranian crude, China is reassuring Tehran that it will continue to import its oil. Prices at the pump jumped 6 cents nationwide last week.

"The clash in Israel worsened market sentiment over geopolitical risks in the Middle East, even though it wouldn't directly impact oil's supply and demand", Mikiko Tate, a senior analyst at Sumitomo Corporation Global Research, said by phone from Tokyo.

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