SINGAPORE, May 4 (AFP): Oil prices fell in Asian trade today after an unexpected increase in US stockpiles sparked a round of profit- taking even as concerns over Iran's nuclear programme remained in place, dealers said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for June delivery was down 23 cents to 72.05 dollars a barrel from its close of 72.28 dollars in New York.
Prices had edged up to near 75 dollars a barrel Wednesday on speculative trading fuelled by the Iranian issue but shed 2.33 dollars in US deals.
Brent North Sea crude for delivery in June fell 17 cents to 72.48 dollars.
"Basically this is due to the impact of the US inventory report which weighed on the price of commodities, including oil," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an investment strategist with CFC Seymour Securities in Hong Kong.
US crude oil reserves in the world's biggest economy rose 1.7 million barrels to 346.7 million barrels in the week to April 28. Analysts had expected a fall of 150,000 barrels.
Gasoline, or petrol, reserves, which are in focus ahead of the US summer peak-driving season, rose 2.1 million barrels to 202.7 million. Markets had bet on a fall of 650,000 barrels.
Worries over a confrontation between Iran and Western powers seeking to rein in its alleged plans to develop nuclear weapons will continue to hang over the market, Kowalczyk said.
With Iran increasingly belligerent, "the political risk premium will push the price of crude towards 80 dollars a barrel in the next several weeks," he said, adding oil could hit 100 dollars in case of military action.
The crisis over Iran dominated a meeting between US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House Wednesday.
After the meeting, Merkel said the United States and Germany were in "total agreement" on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and called on other nations to show similar resolve.
Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes.