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The number of long positions taken by speculators in the oil market has jumped 18pc over the past eight weeks. In London, Brent crude tipped back over $100.40 a barrel on the Intercontinental Exchange, putting on 57 cents.

Analysts fear that instability in Egypt could disrupt both oil production and cargoes travelling through the crucial Suez canal and nearby pipelines.

More than 2m barrels of oil pass through the channel each day.

There are also concerns that social unrest against repressive regimes could spread to other countries in the Middle East, having already toppled the leader of Tunisia and hit Jordan.

“The unrest in Egypt has had an impact on the behavior of speculative financial investors, who are increasingly betting on rising oil prices again amid the uncertainty about possible effects on oil supply,” said analysts at Commerzbank.

A member of Kuwait’s Supreme Petroleum Council said prices could top $110 a barrel if Egypt’s protests continue.

“I expect oil prices to reach $110 during the first half of 2011. However, it could go above that level if Egypt’s current crisis continues,” Imad al-Atiqi told Reuters.

Rafael Ramirez, Venezuelan Oil Minister, even warned that prices would double if the Suez Canal closed because of Egypt’s civil unrest or wider discontent in the Middle East.

“There is sufficient oil and there have been no interruptions, but if they close Suez, that could take the oil price to $200,” Mr Ramirez said.

However, key members of OPEC, the cartel of 12 oil producing countries, appear to remain unconcerned about the price rises.

Iran’s oil minsiter said over the weekend that there would be no need for an emergency meeting to consider raising output even if the oil price hit $120 per barrel.

“In the current conditions there is absolutely no justification for an emergency meeting. The economy has not been affected by oil,” he said.

“We believe oil is reaching its fair level. We maintain that price is $100 per barrel.”

Telegraph

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