SINGAPORE, Mar 16 (AFP) : Oil prices were flat in Asian trade today as the market balanced news of ample crude supplies in the United States against geo-political concerns over Iran and Nigeria, dealers said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, was up two cents to 62.19 dollars a barrel from its close of 62.17 dollars in the United States Wednesday.
"Big builds in crude put a stop to the two-day strong rally in oil prices," said Tony Nunan, an energy risk manager with Mitsubishi Corp.
Prices were up more than three dollars this week on concerns over tight supplies of US gasoline, or petrol, and lingering tensions in major crude producers Iran and Nigeria.
Sentiment changed, however, after figures showed US crude inventories increased 4.8 million barrels in the week to March 10 to stand at 339.9 million-the highest level since April 1999.
That was double analysts' consensus forecasts of a 2.4- million-barrel build. Gasoline stocks fell 900,000 barrels to 223.9 million, in line with forecasts for a drop of 873,000 barrels.
Reserves of distillates, used for heating oil and diesel fuel, fell by 3.9 million barrels to 127.5 million. That was bigger than the 1.3-million-barrel drop expected by analysts.
Meanwhile in Nigeria Wednesday, separatist rebels threatened to step up attacks on foreign oil workers and production facilities in the Niger Delta, after dashing hopes that three Western hostages would soon be released.
The market fears also that Iran-the world's fourth biggest producer of crude-may curb exports if hit by economic sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.
The UN Security Council has agreed to hold Friday a first formal meeting on the Iranian nuclear crisis amid continuing wrangling over a draft statement urging Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.