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Oil prices hit new 2014 peaks

Update: February, 20/2014 - 11:00

NEW YORK – Oil prices have hit their highest levels so far this year on the back of US winter weather and more turmoil in oil exporters Venezuela, South Sudan and Nigeria.

US prices on Wednesday also got a boost from the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's end-January policy meeting, which showed the central bank relatively bullish on the economy and a growing minority advocating early policy tightening.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in March, surged to a four-month high at $103.31 a barrel, up 88 cents from Tuesday. Brent North Sea crude for April added one cent to $110.47, its highest point since the start of 2014.

US prices were helped by expectations of falls in US crude and fuel stockpiles due to continued harsh winter weather across much of the country. Last week's stockpiles data will be released on Thursday, delayed one day by Monday's holiday.

"Brent crude held above $110 a barrel, underpinned by geopolitical concerns in Africa and Venezuela, while US oil touched its highest in four months as stockpiles are forecast to fall on winter demand and new pipeline capacity," wrote Investec oil analysts in a note to clients.

Renewed conflict in oil-producing South Sudan has also given support to Brent prices. Two months of fighting has raised concerns about the stability of the country.

More buying pressure was likely, too, after the leader of Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists threatened attacks in Nigeria's oil region.

"You will in coming days see your refinery bombed," Abubakar Shekau warned in a video late on Wednesday.

Venezuela meanwhile braced for another day of protests on Wednesday with jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez expected to appear in court to hear charges blaming him for a deadly episode of street violence. AFP

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