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Oil prices mixed in Asia ahead of US data

SINGAPORE--Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Friday after a steep decline in U.S. trade, as investors await the release of U.S. stockpiles data while keeping an eye on a disruption in Iraqi supplies.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery, eased five cents to US$95.39 in afternoon trade while Brent North Sea crude for February rose 19 cents to US$107.97.

WTI plunged US$2.98 in New York trade Thursday while Brent tumbled US$3.02, following news that a major Libyan field could come back on line later this week, which would soften demand.

A spokesman for the Libyan National Oil Corporation told AFP Thursday that the 330,000 barrel a day El Sharara field is expected to resume normal output within two or three days, once protesters who have blocked production pull out.

Oil production in Libya has plunged to about 250,000 barrels a day from nearly 1.5 million in the face of demands from armed protesters for more regional autonomy and greater say over the distribution of oil revenues.

Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said there was broadly “positive sentiment” over a solid U.S. stockpiles report to be released later Friday.

The report, usually released on Wednesday, has been postponed due to the New Year's Day holiday.

According to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires, the average forecast is that crude oil supplies fell 2.2 million barrels last week, a fifth consecutive dip after a 10 week run of rises.

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