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Oil at six-week high on Iran tensions and Gulf of Mexico storm

London

OIL prices hit a six-week high on Thursday as oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated ahead of a storm, while an incident with a British tanker in the Middle East highlighted tensions in the region.

Brent crude futures were up 40 cents at US$67.41 a barrel by 0947 GMT. Earlier in the session they hit their highest since May 30 at US$67.65, after ending Wednesday up 4.4 per cent.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 31 cents, at US$60.74 a barrel, having earlier touched their highest since May 23 at US$60.94. They gained 4.5 per cent in the previous session.

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A day after Iran warned Britain would face "consequences" over the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker, three Iranian vessels tried to block the passage of a British ship run by BP through the Strait of Hormuz, the British government said. They withdrew after warnings from a British warship.

"What happened was partially expected. We pointed out last week that Iran was likely to do something of the sort," Petromatrix oil analyst Olivier Jakob said.

Oil prices were also supported by a fall in the dollar after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell bolstered expectations for US interest rate cuts.

"Powell cited trade uncertainties that surround economic growth as a potential reason to cut interest rates. No wonder stocks jumped and the dollar weakened providing extra boost for oil prices and easing fears of demand growth destruction," Commerzbank analysts said in a note.

A decline in US inventories also boosted oil prices. US crude stocks fell 9.5 million barrels in the week to July 5, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, more than the 3.1 million-barrel draw analysts had expected as refineries ramped up output.

US oil producers on Wednesday also cut nearly a third of their output in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of what could be one of the first major storms of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Fifteen production platforms and four rigs were evacuated in the north central Gulf of Mexico, according to a US regulator, as oil firms moved workers to safety ahead of a storm expected to become a hurricane by Friday. REUTERS