Oil holds steady at $101

oil pricesClick on chart for oil market info By Aaron Smith and Ben Rooney, staff writers


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Oil prices ended little changed Monday, recovering from earlier losses, as investors grappled with the potential fallout from the Japan earthquake and ongoing political unrest in the Middle East.

The price of light crude for April delivery rose 3 cents to settle at $101.19 a barrel.

Oil prices fell to a low of $98.47 a barrel earlier on worries that the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday could crimp demand from the world's third largest energy consumer.

But the market recovered later in the day following reports that foreign troops arrived in Bahrain, the strategically and financially important Persian Gulf kingdom that has been roiled by citizen protests for a month.

The Bahraini government said that the "coalition forces" were there "to help protect the safety of citizens, residents and critical infrastructure." It did not specify what countries were represented. But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's oil-rich neighbor to the west, appears to have provided at least some of the troops.

The developments in Bahrain come after protests in Saudi Arabia on Friday turned out to be much more calm than many had feared.

"A planned 'Day of Rage' in Saudi Arabia never really materialized implying that regime change in the world's foremost oil producer is a remote possibility, and reforms underway may placate the populace," said Jason Pride, director of investment strategy at Glenmede.

Oil prices have been supported by political strife in the Middle East and North Africa, where the turmoil in Libya has curtailed oil output in the region's third largest producer.

But analysts said the massive natural disaster in Japan could push prices lower in the short run.

Heavy damage to some of Japan's refineries and their closure will impose "downward pressure on crude oil prices," read an energy research note from the Kilduff Report, since the nation won't be buying a lot of oil in the short term.

But that's just for the short term. The rebuilding of Japan would eventually drive oil prices back up, the report said.

"Japan is the world's third-largest oil consumer," the report stated. "While the disaster will delay the country's economic recovery and dampen its oil demand, its consumption remains significant to the world's oil market. The consequent rebuilding efforts will unquestionably result in bigger oil imports from foreign countries."

Coastal cities in northern Japan were wiped out by a tsunami on Friday, emanating from an 8.9-magnitude earthquake. The official death toll is 1,833, but thousands more are missing. The massive disaster has been further complicated by reports of explosions at nuclear reactors. The Nikkei stock index plunged 6% in Monday's trading session.

Pain at the pump: Despite the drop in crude prices, Americans continue to pay more at the pump. Motorist group AAA said gas prices rose for the 20th straight day, with the average price of a gallon up 0.1 cent to $3.558.

Hawaii has the nation's highest prices at $4.001 a gallon, while Wyoming's are the lowest at $3.268.

-- The CNN Wire Service contributed to this report To top of page

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