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Crude jumps as US airstrike kills Iranian general in Iraq

Singapore — 0600 GMT: Crude oil futures surged during mid-afternoon trade in Asia Friday after a US airstrike killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's foreign wing, in Iraq.

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At 2 pm in Singapore (0600 GMT), the front-month ICE Brent March crude futures were up $1.94/b (2.93%) from Thursday's settle at $68.19/b, while the front-month NYMEX February light sweet crude futures contract was $1.69/b (2.76%) higher at $62.87/b.

"Oil leapt by 3.0% today in Asia following the US airstrike...The move is understandable as it is unlikely that Iran will let this event pass without some retaliatory action," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

"As this is a developing story, it is hard to say whether these gains will be sustained, thinking back to the price action after the attacks on the Saudi oil installations last year...Oil will remain firm in Asia though and most likely early Europe as well," Halley added.

The killing of Soleimani is another chapter in the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which include sweeping sanctions on oil and other exports.

Due to sanctions, Iranian oil exports that averaged more than 1.7 million b/d in March 2019, fell below 500,000 b/d in August, September and October last year, based on estimates compiled from shipping sources and cFlow, S&P Global Platts trade flow software.

"The escalation in the Middle Eastern tensions sparked jittery in markets, as markets fear that this incident could spark fury from Iran, which could further escalate into greater tensions between both nations," said Samuel Siew, investment analyst at Phillip Futures.

"However, we are of the view that this could be a knee-jerk selloff, given that the fresh risks are unlikely to outweigh the optimism fueled by China's stimulus, easing Sino-US trade tensions and an improving global outlook," Siew added.

Meantime, market participants awaited further cues from the US Energy Information Administration data, due later Friday.

Earlier on Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute reported a draw of 7.8 million barrels for the week ended December 27, which more than doubled analysts' expectations of a 3.1 million barrels draw over the same period, a survey conducted by Platts on Monday showed.

In other news, the US oil and gas rigs count dropped by four on the week to 836, the lowest total since early February 2017, consultants Enverus said Thursday, in the first rig tally of the 2020s.

The number of rigs chasing crude oil for the week ended January 1 was down by three to 670, while gas-oriented rigs moved up by one to 163. Totals for rigs not classified as either oil or gas dropped by two.

The total domestic rig count has lost just over 400 rigs, or 32%, since the recent peak of 1,237 in mid-November 2018.

As of 0600 GMT, the US Dollar Index was up 0.01% at 96.500.

--Ng Jing Zhi, jz.ng@spglobal.com

--Edited by Manish Parashar, manishparashar@spglobal.com