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Crude futures lower, unable to break technical price levels; ICE Brent at $69.20/b

London — Crude oil futures were slightly lower during early European trade Friday, unable to break technical levels, with a number of bearish and bullish factors at play.

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At 11:01 London time (1001 GMT), June ICE Brent crude futures were down 20 cents/b from Thursday's settle at $69.20/b, while the NYMEX May light sweet crude contract fell 1 cent/b to $62.09/b.

"On a technical level Brent is oscillating around its 200-day moving average of $69.13/'s quite telling that Brent is struggling to hold above that level and break above $70/b with conviction," according to Geordie Wilkes, analyst at Sucden UK Ltd.

"Immediate support is at $68.69/b on the June contract, and it has been supported at this level for the last four trading sessions, consolidating recent gains. A break below that level would suggest a correction," Wilkes said.

There are a number of bullish and bearish factors at play currently in the oil market.

OPEC-led production cuts have tightened the market, while "Venezuela output is set to fall further," Wilkes said. Power outages have led to an acceleration in losses in Venezuelan exports, which had already recently been curtailed by US sanctions.

Meanwhile, high oil prices would make it difficult for the administration of US President Donald Trump to reduce Iranian crude exports to zero, with exemptions from US sanctions set to expire in early May.

"The risk of another Trump tweet is hanging over the oil market like a sword of Damocles that would come crashing down if Brent were to rise lastingly above the $70 mark," Commerzbank analysts said in a note Friday.

At the same time, east Libyan rebels from the Libyan National Army, led by military commander Khalifa Haftar, are advancing on Tripoli.

"The last thing the oil market needs now is renewed production outages in Libya. If this happens, this would noticeably increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia to open up the oil tap again, as it did in the autumn," Commerzbank analysts said.

Profit-taking and a larger-than-expected build in US crude oil stockpiles saw crude oil futures slip in Asian trading.

In the US, the oil and gas rig count rose 21 to 1,098 during the first week of April, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, with activity upturns recorded across several large basins amid higher oil prices.

Oil-directed rigs were up by 20, to 877, while natural gas rigs increased by two to 219. A one-rig decline was seen for rigs not specified for oil or gas, Platts reported.

--Gary Clark,

--Edited by James Leech,