Beijing is under pressure from mainland oil firms to increase fuel prices for the first time this year because of soaring crude costs. China Petroleum & Chemical (Sinopec), the nation's biggest oil refiner, and Asia's No 1 oil producer PetroChina are among firms that have asked the National Development and Reform Commission for approval to increase retail prices of petrol and diesel to pare losses, the China Business said. There has been no increase in retail prices since May last year. The financial daily said speculation was rife that the state could allow oil firms to pass on higher costs to consumers around National Day, October 1. Crude oil for August delivery jumped 3 per cent to US$72.81 a barrel on Friday, the highest since August 15 last year. Attacks, kidnappings and political turmoil in oil-producing regions such as Iran, Nigeria and Iraq are fuelling concern about disrupted shipments and exports, sending oil prices higher. UBS analysts forecast crude oil would average US$72 in the third quarter of this year and US$69 in the fourth quarter. International oil prices averaged around US$57 in the first quarter of this year and US$66 in the second quarter. Sinopec has said its refinery unit would break even only at US$60 a barrel. 'For every barrel of imported oil [on current prices] we refine, our loss will increase by more than US$10,' a Sinopec refinery official said. Sources said the oil firms had repeatedly asked for approval to raise retail prices but without success. Some economists and analysts have doubts about whether fuel prices will be raised because of Beijing's concerted efforts to keep inflation at bay and avoid an overheated economy. JP Morgan Chase analyst Brynjar Eirik Bustnes said Beijing would avoid raising fuel prices as inflation was above the central bank's 3 per cent target. Thomas Wong, head of Asia oil and gas research at UBS, said: 'The good time was early this year when the oil price was low and inflation was low. Now the barriers are much greater. 'I think the market environment for a refined oil price hike in the second half is not very good, due to the high inflation figures.'