Oil prices set for biggest first quarter gain since 2009 on US sanctions, OPEC

CNBC

Reuters

KEY POINTS
  • U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $59.56 per barrel at 0211 GMT, up 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their last settlement.
  • Brent crude oil futures were up 30 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $68.12 per barrel. Brent futures are set to increase by 1.7 percent for the week and are set to climb by 27 percent for the first quarter.
RT: Oil operations Permian Basin near Midland, Texas 180823
A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018.
Nick Oxford | Reuters

Oil prices rose on Friday, pushed up by ongoing supply cuts led by producer club OPEC and U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, putting the crude markets on pace to post their biggest first quarter gain since 2009.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $59.56 per barrel at 0211 GMT, up 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their last settlement.

WTI futures are set to rise for a fourth straight week and are set for a first quarter gain of 31 percent.

Brent crude oil futures were up 30 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $68.12 per barrel. Brent futures are set to increase by 1.7 percent for the week and are set to climb by 27 percent for the first quarter.

For both futures contracts, the first quarter 2019 is the best performing quarter since the second quarter of 2009 when both gained about 40 percent.

Oil prices have been supported for much of 2019 by the efforts of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-affiliated allies like Russia, together known as OPEC+, who have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of supply this year to prop up markets.

“Production cuts from the OPEC+ group of producers have been the main reason for the dramatic recovery since the 38 percent price slump seen during the final quarter of last year,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The price surge triggered a call by U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday for OPEC to boost production to lower prices.

“Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

OPEC+ are meeting in June to discuss whether to continue withholding supply or not.

OPEC’s de-facto leader Saudi Arabia favors cuts for the full year while Russia, which only reluctantly joined the agreement, is seen to be less keen to keep holding back beyond September.

However, the OPEC+ cuts are not the only reason for rising oil prices this year, with analysts also pointing to U.S. sanctions on oil exporters and OPEC members Iran and Venezuela as reasons for the surge.

Despite the surging prices, analysts are expressing concerns about future oil demand amid worrying signs the global economy may move into a recession.

Saxo Bank’s Hansen said “the biggest short-term risk to the oil market is likely to be driven by renewed stock market weakness.”

Stock markets have been volatile this year amid signs of a sharp global economic slowdown.

“Business confidence has weakened in recent months … (and) global manufacturing PMIs are about to move into contraction,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note, although it added that “the services sector … continues to expand unabated.”

Given the OPEC+ cuts, however, Bank of America said it expected oil prices to rise in the short-term, with Brent prices forecast to average $74 per barrel in the second quarter.

Heading towards 2020, however, the bank warned of a recession.

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