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Oil in first close above US$100 this year; markets await Yellen comments

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Oil prices rose slightly Monday, enough to close above US$100 a barrel for the first time this year.

Investors are awaiting the first public comments from the new chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Janet Yellen, who last week was confirmed in her role. She is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Congress on Tuesday and traders will be particularly interested to hear anything she says about the withdrawal of the Fed's monetary stimulus.

The central bank has reined in its stimulus program, but recent jobs data have suggested that the U.S. economic recovery may not be as healthy as it seemed. The stimulus in its various guises has helped shore up a number of financial assets over the past few years, including oil prices.

Oil has been boosted recently by the frigid temperatures in many parts of the United States, which has boosted demand for heating oil. That support could be waning.

"The recent price prop of exceptionally cold temperature trends has quickly given way to forecasts for significant moderation, especially along the East coast," Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note to clients.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for March gained 18 cents to close at US$100.06 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Elsewhere in oil markets, Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, dropped 94 cents to US$108.63 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading in New York, wholesale gasoline fell two cents to US$2.72 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and heating oil shed five cents to US$2.99 a gallon.

Natural gas lost 20 cents to US$4.58 per 1,000 cubic feet. It has dropped 17.6 per cent since closing at a four-year high of US$5.56 on Jan. 29.

(TSX:ECA), (TSX:IMO), (TSX:SU), (TSX:HSE), (NYSE:BP), (NYSE:COP), (NYSE:XOM), (NYSE:CVX), (TSX:CNQ), (TSX:TLM), (TSX:COS), (TSX:CVE)

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