NEW YORK – Oil prices fell nearly 4 percent on Monday as dealers shifted their focus from shaky geopolitics to brimming U.S. stockpiles and took profits from last week's sharp gains.
U.S. light, sweet crude for April delivery settled down $2.35 to $60.42 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices fell 81 cents on Friday, but still ended the week up nearly $3 on concerns about potential supply interruptions.
London Brent crude was down $1.92 at $61.34.
"There is little news to perk up the market," said Tom Knight, a trader at Truman Arnold.
U.S. oil inventories are at their highest in about seven years, due in part to a tide of imports in recent months, giving the world's biggest energy consumer a thick buffer against supply disruptions.
Stockpiles of crude in the U.S. Gulf Coast, the heart of the nation's oil industry, are at their highest level since 1990, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
Oil prices remain buoyed over $60 a barrel — about twice where they were 2 years ago — as concerns remain that there is little spare global production capacity to fend off an extended supply outage.
Saudi Arabia's oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said he was not worried that swelling U.S. crude oil inventories would trigger a collapse in prices.
"I believe, in these somewhat tense and uncertain times, it is only logical for consuming countries to build stocks," he said on Sunday. "In normal situations very high stocks would have a depressing effect on prices, but these are not normal times."
Shipments from Nigeria have been hindered in recent weeks by militant attacks in the Niger Delta, a situation that worsened over the weekend after unidentified attackers blew up an oil pipeline in region.
Italian oil company ENI, whose Agip unit operates the pipeline, said that 75,000 barrels per day of output had been cut by saboteurs but that production should resume by month-end.
Royal Dutch Shell has yet to set a restart date for the 555,000 bpd of Nigerian output that it and other equity holders have had shut in since attacks on Feb. 18.
Oil prices also have been supported by concern that Iran's nuclear dispute with the West could affect its exports, and growing worries that changes to U.S. gasoline specifications may stretch the refining system as the summer driving period approaches.