Crude oil futures - weekly outlook: April 21 - 25

U.S. crude oil futures settled near six-week highs on Thursday as concerns over the crisis in Ukraine continued to underpin prices, while upbeat U.S. economic data bolstered the demand outlook.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil futures for delivery in May ended Thursday’s session at $104.58 a barrel, not far from the peaks of $104.97 reached in the previous session. Trading on the NYMEX was closed for Good Friday.

Nymex oil futures ended the holiday shortened week with gains of 1.06%.

Oil futures moved higher after upbeat U.S. data on manufacturing and employment pointed to underlying strength in the economy.

The Labor Department reported the number of people filing for unemployment benefits edged up to 304,000, below analysts’ forecasts and not far from the six-and-a-half year low of 300,000 touched the previous week.

A separate report showed that manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region strengthened more than forecast in April.

Crude prices were also supported as heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine fanned fears over possible supply disruptions from Russia, the world largest energy exporter.

Concerns over the crisis in eastern Ukraine eased somewhat on Thursday after Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union said an agreement on steps to 'de-escalate' the crisis had been reached.

Heightened geopolitical risk overshadowed a report on Wednesday showing a far larger than expected increase in U.S. crude oil stockpiles.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 10.01 million barrels in the week ended April 11. It was the largest inventory build since March 2001. Analysts had expected an injection of 2.25 million barrels.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 394.1 million barrels, the most since June.

Gasoline inventories decreased by 0.2 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a decline of 1.66 million barrels, the EIA said, while distillate stockpiles decreased by 1.27 million barrels.

The May Brent oil contract ended Thursday’s session $109.69 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, and ended the week with gains of 0.73%.

The spread between the Brent and the Nymex crude contracts stood at $5.11 a barrel by close of trade, compared to $4.00 in the preceding week.