SINGAPORE, Jan 30 (AFP): Oil prices rose sharply above 68 dollars a barrel in Asian trade today as Iran stirred turmoil on the eve of an OPEC meeting by calling for a cut in production levels, dealers said.
Key members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have rejected Iran's call but the debate sparked market jitters ahead of the oil cartel's meeting in Vienna Tuesday.
News that one billion British pounds (1.76 billion US) in British pension fund money has been allocated to the commodities market also conspired to send prices higher.
On analyst said 70 dollars a barrel was again within striking distance while 90-97 dollars a barrel was possible by the third or fourth quarter this year.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for March delivery, was up 43 cents to 68.19 dollars a barrel from its close of 67.76 dollars in the United States Friday.
Prices had surged 1.50 dollars in New York on supply concerns related to the unrest in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, and the potential fallout from Iran's decision to resume sensitive nuclear research.
On the other hand, South Korea, the world fourth-largest oil importer, spent 40 per cent more money on oil imports in 2005 than in 2004 due to high crude oil prices and an increase in oil consumption, a government report showed today.
According to the report issued by the Bank of Korea (BOK) and the Ministry of Finance and Economy, South Korea spent 42.7 billion US dollars in 2005 on crude oil importation, up 42.8 per cent from that in 2004.
The expenditure, which included insurance and shipment costs, was the largest ever since the country started to import crude oil, the report showed.
South Korea relies entirely on imports for its oil needs.
The price of Dubai crude oil averaged 50.60 dollars a barrel last year, up from 36.15 dollars in 2004, while South Korea's oil consumption amounted to 844.1 million barrels in 2005, up from 827. 5 million barrels a year earlier, according to the report.
Spending on oil imports will likely increase further this year, as crude oil prices are expected to hover above 55 dollars a barrel, the report forecast.