| GEO Business|
| Oil lower in Asia, no support at 81 dollars|
| Updated at: 0950 PST, Thursday, March 04, 2010|
SINGAPORE: Oil prices briefly topped 81 dollars in Asian trade Thursday but failed to sustain the support as the US dollar gained strength, making the commodity more expensive, analysts said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, was down 12 cents to 80.75 dollars a barrel in morning trade after hitting an intra-day high of 81.01 dollars.
The contract had surged 1.19 dollars in US trade Wednesday as the market cheered a largely encouraging report on US petroleum stockpiles.
London's Brent North Sea crude for April shed two cents to 79.23 dollars a barrel after climbing 1.07 dollars Wednesday.
"The US dollar has recovered a little bit of ground and that's taken some of the edge off oil prices," said David Moore, a commodity strategist with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney.
The dollar had earlier fallen against the yen and the euro Wednesday as Greece launched a fresh round of austerity measures to contain its debt crisis that has dampened sentiment for the single European currency.
As oil is traded in US dollars, the commodity becomes more expensive for holders of weaker currencies, leading to lower demand and depressing prices.
Sentiment was buoyant Wednesday after a report on US stockpiles from the Department of Energy (DoE) showed distillates, which include diesel and heating fuel, fell a sharper-than-expected 800,000 barrels.
It also said refinery use picked up after weeks of weakness, to 81.9 percent of capacity. In addition, demand for petroleum products, on a four-week moving average, rose to 19.3 million barrels per day, an increase of 3.0 percent from a year ago.
However, it did indicate that crude reserves rose for the seventh consecutive week in the seven days to February 26, while the increase of 4.1 million barrels was four times bigger than the consensus forecast.
Gasoline stockpiles rose 700,000 barrels, in line with market expectations.
The report is closely watched as an indicator of demand in the world's top energy consumer.