Oil prices jump 4% amid unrest in Libya

Posted Feb. 21 at 6:57 a.m.

Oil prices surged more than 4 percent early Monday as anti-government protests in the Middle East and Africa intensified, raising worries about possible supply disruptions.

Crude oil for April delivery gained $3.40, or 3.8 percent, to $93.11 a barrel after earlier jumping as high as $93.75. Oil prices have been trading in a range between $88 and $94 a barrel since the start of the year.

Monday’s spike follows violent clashes in Libya over the weekend that were spurred, at least in part, by angst over high unemployment. The unrest has left at least 233 people dead in Libya, according to Human Rights Watch.

Tensions remained high in the North African nation Monday, albeit a far cry from the tumult seen Sunday, when the violence and chaos came to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s doorstep Tripoli, Libya’s capital, for the first time.

Libya produces 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, according to Ilya Spivak, an analyst at DailyFX. BP confirmed Monday that it is preparing to evacuate families and non-essential staff from Libya. The oil company said it has about 140 employees based mostly in Tripoli.

“As long as the situation in this key oil-production region of the Middle East and North Africa remains so volatile, expect prices for the commodity to remain supported,” Spivak wrote in a research report. BP said none of its operations were impacted…yet. But the company said it had suspended preparations for a drilling project in Libya’s western desert.

Gold prices also rose as investors sought the perceived safety of precious metals. April gold was up $14.30, or 1 percent, to $1,402.90 an ounce. Silver also jumped, rising 3.5 percent to $33.42 an ounce.

The unrest in Libya is part of a wave of protests across the region that started in Tunisia earlier this year and spread to Egypt, where antigovernment protesters toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak earlier this month.

Protests have been reported in other North African nations, including Morocco and Algeria.

Governments in Yemen and Iraq have also been challenged.

In Bahrain, a small island country next to oil rich Saudi Arabia, about 10 protesters are thought to have died in five days of protests, but opposition activists say dozens more are unaccounted for.

Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers, has seen a renewal of the opposition that has simmered since the country’s 2009 election, when hundreds of thousands of people filled Tehran streets to denounce the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Oil prices jumped last week amid reports that Iran was moving warships through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria.

The Suez Canal, located between Asia and Africa, is a key passageway for international trade. Millions of barrels of oil move through it every day on the way to both Europe and North America. Oil prices spiked a few weeks ago on concerns that the instability in Egypt might cause the Suez Canal to be shut down.

Meanwhile, stock markets in Europe were also under pressure. The Dax in Germany and the CAC 40 in Paris both fell 0.7 percent, while the FTSE 100 in London slid 0.3 percent.

Asian stocks ended mixed. The Heng Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.5 percent, while the Shanghai composite jumped 1.1 percent. The Nikkei in Japan closed about 0.1 percent higher.

Markets in the United States were closed Monday for the President’s day holiday.

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