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Japan Quake Sends Oil Prices Below $100

(Japanese earthquake, oil prices story updated for Thursday trading, refinery and LNG market commentary

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil prices declined on Friday as the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan sent oil refineries in the third-largest oil consuming nation offline, and as Saudi Arabia's "Day of Rage" appeared to be a bigger headline event than actual protest movement.

The Japanese quake, the worst earthquake in Japan in 140 years, hit the Japanese oil refining market hard, with storage tanks set ablaze and refinery operations shuttered in some cases.

Japanese oil refining capacity were offline on Friday. U.S. oil refiner stocks soared in trading on Friday morning. The energy markets were also trying to digest the impact of the hit to Japan's power infrastructure with nuclear plants offline and need for incremental liquified natural gas-produced energy.

Nymex crude oil futures and WTI spot oil prices were down by 1.5% on Friday, almost twice the decline in Brent crude. Nymex oil futures and WTI spot were hovering above the $101 mark on Friday afternoon, after having dipped below the $100 mark in the morning. Brent crude was down by less than 1% and was recently trading at $113.68.

Japan consumes more than 4.4 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency. The IEA said on Friday in a statement that it had not received any indication from Japan that it required assistance managing its oil supply in the wake of the earthquake.

Friday was the second consecutive day that an Asian markets event trigger concerns about global demand for oil. On Thursday, the larger macro trigger, when China reported a trade deficit at its highest level in seven years, sent oil prices and energy stocks into a tailspin. The Japanese earthquake -- Japan is the third-largest oil consumer in the world -- contributed to fears of a global demand stall, too. However, equities and the energy sector rebounded on Friday.

The trade data from China and Japanese quake also provide a counterpoint to the continuing headlines from the Middle East, which have sent oil prices higher.

A Cosmo Oil refinery 40 kilometers east of Tokyo was on fire on Friday, according to a Bloomberg report. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. said it shut refineries in the Sendai -- where the quake was centered -- and in Kashima and Negishi. In addition to oil refineries in Japan, nuclear power operations were hit hard in Japan, with a significant percentage of Japan's nuclear energy capabilities taken offline. There were fears of small radiation leaks at a nuclear reactor where a cooling system was damaged.

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