By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
LONDON (Reuters) -Oil prices held steady on Friday, heading for their biggest weekly gains since mid-December as unrest in Kazakhstan and outages in Libya spurred concerns over supply.
was up 2 cents, or less than 0.1%, at $82.01 a barrel at 1445 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 17 cents, or 0.2%, at $79.29 a barrel.
Brent and WTI were on track for gains of almost 5.5% in the first week of the year, with prices at their highest since late November, as supply concerns overtook worries that the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant might hurt demand.
“The upward jump in oil prices mostly reflects the market jitters as unrest escalates in Kazakhstan and the political situation in Libya continues to deteriorate and sideline oil output,” Rystad Energy analyst Louise Dickson said.
Security forces appeared to be in control of the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city Almaty on Friday and the president said constitutional order had mostly been restored, a day after Russia sent troops to put down an uprising.
The protests began in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich western regions after state price caps on butane and propane were removed on New Year’s Day.
Oil production at Kazakhstan’s top field Tengiz was reduced on Thursday, its operator Chevron (NYSE:) said, as some contractors disrupted train lines in support of protests taking place across the central Asian country.
Both contracts were up $1 earlier in the session, but prices came under pressure after U.S. employment figures missed expectations.
U.S. employment increased less than expected in December amid worker shortages, and job gains could remain moderate in the near term as spiraling COVID-19 infections disrupt economic activity.
Meanwhile supply additions from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and allies – together called OPEC+ – are not keeping up with demand growth.
OPEC’s output in December rose by 70,000 barrels per day from the previous month, versus the 253,000 bpd increase allowed under the OPEC+ supply deal which restored output slashed in 2020 when demand collapsed under COVID-19 lockdowns.
Production in Libya has dropped to 729,000 barrels per day from a high of 1.3 million bpd last year, partly due to pipeline maintenance work.
While the Omicron coronavirus variant is rapidly taking hold, demand-side concerns are easing amid rising evidence that it is less severe than previous variants.
“The concerns about a massive slump in oil demand have faded now that it has become clear that Omicron leads to milder forms of the disease than previous variants of the virus, meaning that massive mobility restrictions are not likely,” said Commerzbank (DE:) analyst Carsten Fritsch.
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