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Oil slips as Trump, France's Macron talk Iran deal

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Oil prices slipped on Tuesday as concerns the United States might reinstate sanctions against Iran faded somewhat, reducing worries about the future of Iranian exports.

[NEW YORK] Oil prices slipped on Tuesday as concerns the United States might reinstate sanctions against Iran faded somewhat, reducing worries about the future of Iranian exports.

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to seek stronger measures to contain Iran. At a joint news conference, Trump did not repeat threats to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement but made clear he has little patience for it.

Renewed sanctions could harm Iran's ability to export its crude.

Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA, said new sanctions against Tehran "could push oil prices up as much as US$5 per barrel."

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Brent slid 85 cents, or 1.1 per cent, to settle at US$73.86 a barrel. Earlier in the session it hit US$75.47, its highest since November 2014. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 94 cents to US$67.70.

WTI's discount to Brent WTCLc1-LCOc1 was as wide as US$6.32, the most since Jan 2, on rising US production.

Prices briefly extended losses in post-settlement trading after data from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, showed a surprise build in US crude inventories. Analysts had expected a decline in stockpiles.

"We're still really nestled within 3-1/2 year highs," said Gene McGillian, manager of market research at Tradition Energy.

"With oil prices near US$70, a dollar here or there is not really enough to move the needle," he said.

Before slipping, Brent hit its highest since Nov 27, 2014, which is the day the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided it would not curb global output. Prices subsequently went on a multi-year plunge.

Oil began recovering in 2016 as Opec discussed a return to market management with the help of Russia and other non-members. A deal to rein in output started in January 2017.

Meanwhile, oil demand in top consumer Asia is expected to hit a record in April.

"Prices are being driven up by tight supply due to high production outages in Venezuela plus the cuts implemented by Opec and Russia," said Carsten Fritsch, analyst at Commerzbank."What is more, demand appears robust."

Growing US demand, indicated by strong refinery utilisation rates, is very supportive to prices, said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

"You could get rid of all of these geopolitical headlines -Syria, trade - and if you did that, you would still have a very impressive demand situation in the United States," he said.

REUTERS