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HOUSTON: U.S. crude futures returned to positive territory on Monday after falling on easing fears of a wider Mideast conflict.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 0.03 cents or 0.04% at $83.17 a barrel at 9:46 a.m. CDT (1446 GMT). The front-month WTI crude contract for May expires on Monday.

Brent crude futures were down 48 cents, or 0.55%, at $86.77 a barrel.

Both benchmarks had been down more than $1 a barrel. Early on Friday, prices for WTI and crude climbed than $3 a barrel, after explosions were heard in the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources described as an Israeli attack.

Oil holds near 3-week low

Gains dissipated after Tehran played down the incident and said it did not plan to retaliate.

Geopolitical risk premiums tend not to last if supply is not actually disrupted, said UBS strategist Giovanni Staunovo, adding that the high spare capacity of a few oil-producing countries could compensate for any supply disruptions.

The market reaction to the rising geopolitical temperature was another example that it is only reasonable to expect a protracted oil rally if the Strait of Hormuz- the world’s most important oil artery - was disrupted or Saudi Arabia directly drawn into the conflict, noted Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

Meanwhile, plentiful supplies of some of the biggest crude grades are limiting the impact on oil futures of conflict in the Middle East, a Reuters analysis found.

On the economic front, inflation is back in focus, with comments from Federal Reserve officials and a run of hotter-than-expected inflation data forcing a paring back of rate cut expectations last week.

Economic concerns have again become a bearish factor of the crude market, with prices under pressure due to a large build in the U.S. stockpile and a hawkish Fed that has led to a strong dollar, said independent market analyst Tina Teng.

A strong dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies.

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