Oil below $111 on Brent restart, Cenbanks eyed

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Oil eased below $111 a barrel on Thursday as the North Sea Brent pipeline restarted and while investors awaited central bank meetings and economic data to gain a better picture on the prospects for oil demand.

The European Central Bank, meeting on Thursday, was expected to leave rates unchanged. The Bank of England also met, and kept its rates unchanged and decided not to pump more money into Britain's ailing economy.

Brent crude was down 21 cents at $110.85 a barrel by 1204 GMT. It has fallen from a 2013 high of $119.17 on Feb. 8. U.S. WTI crude rose 37 cents to $90.80.

"The February correction is now over and the market in London is finding some support near $110," said Andrey Kryuchenkov, analyst at VTB Capital. "Still, near-term fundamentals do not justify sustained gains."

Brent has found some support this week from the unplanned shutdown of the Brent pipeline system and disruption to exports of Nigerian crude.

Prices edged lower after the Brent operator, Abu Dhabi-based TAQA, said it had begun reopening the pipeline. Brent is one of four North Sea crudes which make up the North Sea benchmark still named after the original crude.

"There is a little pressure coming from the restart of Brent, but it seems the market is holding above $110 pretty well," said Christopher Bellew, a broker at Jefferies Bache in London.

Investors awaited ECB President Mario Draghi's news conference at 1330 GMT. Earlier in the day, the Bank of Japan kept its policy unchanged as expected.

Oil came under pressure on Wednesday after a U.S. government report showed crude inventories rose by 3.83 million barrels, much more than the 500,000-barrel increase analysts had forecast.

"The fact that U.S. crude stocks surged nearly eight times more than expected does point to weaker demand, which will weigh on the WTI," said Ben le Brun, an analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney, referring to Western Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark.

"We have a busy end of the week as far as macroeconomic data is concerned; the oil markets are watching out for those."

China's all-important trade data, including crude demand numbers, for February are scheduled to be released on Friday, as is the U.S. non-farm payrolls jobs report. (Reporting by Ramya Venugopal in Singapore and Alex Lawler; Editing by William Hardy)



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