Oil stable but below recent highs as rising U.S. supplies threaten bull-run

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  • Oil prices stabilized on Wednesday with global benchmark Brent at $74.02 a barrel and U.S. crude at $67.84.
  • Many analysts say that the oil market slump that started in 2014 has ended and that a sustained price rally is likely due to supply disruptions and strong demand — especially from Asia.
  • A report from the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday said U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 20.

Oil prices were stable on Wednesday, but were below more than three-year highs reached the previous session as rising U.S. fuel inventories and production dragged on an otherwise bullish market.

Brent crude oil futures were at 74.02 per barrel at 0020 GMT, up 16 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their last close, but were some way below the November-2014 high of $75.47 a barrel reached the previous day.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $67.84 per barrel. That was also off the late-2014 highs of $69.56 a barrel reached earlier in April.

Overall, many analysts say an oil market slump that started in 2014 has now ended and is turning into a sustained price rally due to supply disruptions and also strong demand, especially in Asia.

That’s due to production cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which were introduced in 2017 with the aim of propping up the market, but also because of political risk to supplies in the Middle East, Venezuela and Africa.

“Market sentiment is turning increasingly bullish towards the commodity,” said Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at futures brokerage FXTM.

Despite this, Otunga said “the sustainability of the rally is a concern” as it was fuelled largely by political risk in the Middle East.

“With rising production from U.S shale still a key market theme that continues to weigh on oil prices, it will be interesting to see how much oil appreciates before bears enter the scene,” he said.

U.S. crude oil production has shot up by more than a quarter since mid-2016 to over 10.54 million barrels per day (bpd), taking it past Saudi Arabia’s output of around 10 million bpd. Only Russia currently produces more, at almost 11 million bpd.

U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 20 to 429.1 million, according to a report by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday.

Official weekly U.S. fuel inventory and crude production data will be published later on Wednesday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Oil remains close to late-2014 highs as ongoing supply cuts reduce inventories

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  • Oil prices were firm on Friday near three-year highs reached earlier this week.
  • OPEC has been withholding production since 2017 to draw down a supply overhang.
  • Crude prices have also been supported by an expectation that the U.S. will re-introduce sanctions on Iran.

An oil pump jack in Gonzales, Texas.

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An oil pump jack in Gonzales, Texas.

Oil prices on Friday stayed near three-year highs reached earlier this week, with ongoing OPEC-led supply cuts and strong demand gradually drawing down excess supplies.

Brent crude oil futures were at $73.74 per barrel at 0657 GMT, down 4 cents from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 13 cents at $68.16 a barrel.

Both Brent and WTI hit their highest levels since November, 2014 on Thursday, at $74.75 and $69.56 per barrel respectively. WTI is set for its second weekly gain, climbing more than 1 percent this week, while Brent is also poised to rise for a second week, adding around 1.5 percent.

Traders said there had been some profit-taking on Friday following Thursday’s multi-year highs.

There was also some caution after Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak was reported saying that a group of producers around the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as Russia may this year ease output restrictions.

Producer cartel OPEC and its allies have been withholding production since 2017, helping push up prices. The deal to cut is currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2018.

After a tepid start in 2017, the supply restraint had by this year started tightening markets.
“Commercial inventories in the OECD are now essentially at their five-year average, and drawdowns likely accelerate as refineries emerge from maintenance ahead of peak seasonal demand,” U.S. investment bank Jefferies said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is 'going to the whip' to drive oil prices higher, says pro

Saudi Arabia is ‘going to the whip’ to drive oil prices higher, says pro  

“OECD commercial inventories could fall back to … a level not seen since the oil price collapse that began in 3Q14. On a day of forward demand basis, we believe cover could drop below 57 days later this year, a level last seen in 2011,” it added.

The tightness is also a result of strong oil demand.

“Global oil demand data so far in 2018 has come in line with our optimistic expectations, with 1Q18 likely to post the strongest year-on-year growth since 4Q10 at 2.55 million barrels per day,” U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said in a note published late on Thursday.

Beyond OPEC’s supply management, crude prices have also been supported by an expectation that the United States will re-introduce sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.

“The first key geopolitical issue is the expiration of the current U.S. waiver of key sanctions against Iran,” said Standard Chartered Bank in a note this week, referring to a deadline on May 12 when U.S. President Donald Trump will decide whether or not to re-impose sanctions.

One factor that could start weighing on prices is rising U.S. production, which has jumped by a quarter since the middle of 2016 to 10.54 million barrels per day (bpd), making the United States the world’s second-biggest producer of crude oil behind only Russia, which pumps almost 11 million bpd.

Oil near late-2014 highs as Saudi pushes for higher prices, US crude stocks decline

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  • Oil prices remained close to highs touched the previous day that were last seen in late 2014.
  • The EIA said on Wednesday that commercial crude stocks fell by 1.1 million barrels last week.
  • Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia would be happy to see crude rise to $80 or even $100 a barrel.

An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.

Andrew Cullen | Reuters
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.

Oil prices on Thursday remained close to late 2014-highs reached in the previous session as U.S. crude inventories declined and as top exporter Saudi Arabia pushes for prices of $80 to $100 per barrel by continuing to withhold supplies.

Brent crude oil futures were at $73.82 per barrel at 0325 GMT, up 34 cents, or 0.5 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 28 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $68.75 a barrel.

Brent on Wednesday marked its highest level since November, 2014 at $73.93 per barrel. WTI hit its strongest since December, 2014 at $68.91 a barrel.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that top oil exporter Saudi Arabia would be happy to see crude rise to $80 or even $100 a barrel, which was seen as a sign that Riyadh will seek no changes to an OPEC supply-cutting deal that was introduced in 2017 to boost prices.

“The Saudis and their colleagues in OPEC need higher oil for their fiscal positions and the Kingdom is on a bold – and costly – reform program. So they might continue to squeeze the lemon while they have the chance,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.

Led by Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a group of other producers that includes Russia started to withhold output in 2017 to rein in oversupply that had depressed prices since 2014.

“We are rapidly transitioning from a market drowning in oil (2014-2016) to a new reality of undersupply and low storage levels,” said Richard Robinson, manager of the Ashburton Global Energy Fund.

Since the start of the voluntary restraint, crude inventories have been gradually declining from record levels towards long-term average levels.

Further supporting oil prices is an expectation that the United States will re-introduce sanctions against OPEC-member Iran, which could result in further supply reductions from the Middle East.

In the United States, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday that commercial crude stocks fell by 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 13, to 427.57 million barrels, which is close to the five-year average level around 420 million barrels.

“Oil prices have the potential to rise another 15 percent over the remainder of 2018,” Robinson said.

With crude prices on the rise, those producers not participating in voluntary restraint are ramping up output.

U.S. crude production has jumped by a quarter since mid-2016,to a record 10.54 million barrels per day (bpd).

That’s more than Saudi Arabia produces. Only Russia churns out more oil, at almost 11 million bpd.

Oil prices rise amid risk of supply disruptions

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  • Oil prices rose on Tuesday amid worries there could be a high risk of disruptions to supply.
  • Traders said those risks included potentially spreading conflict in the Middle East and renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Oil fracking California

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Oil prices rose on Tuesday amid worries there could be a high risk of disruptions to supply, especially in the Middle East.

Brent crude oil futures were at $71.69 per barrel at 0326 GMT, up 27 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 32 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $66.54 a barrel.

Traders said oil markets were receiving general support due to a sense that there were high risks of supply disruptions, including a potentially spreading conflict in the Middle East, renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran and falling output as a result of political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

“With so many potential supply disruptors in play and few signs that the current market upheaval will end any time soon, traders continue to pay the geopolitical risk premium,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

“Oil prices should remain bid … at least through the Iran nuclear deal deadline (May 12) if not for the remainder of 2018,” he added.

Oil markets have generally been well supported this year, with Brent up by around 16 percent from its 2018-low in February, due to healthy demand which comes as the producer cartel of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) leads supply cuts aimed at tightening the market and propping up prices.

US output soars

Beyond OPEC’s production restraint and concerns about supply disruptions, the main market driver in oil has been the United States, where crude production has soared by almost a quarter since mid-2016 to 10.53 million barrels per day (bpd), largely thanks to a booming shale industry.

Only Russia pumps out more oil currently at almost 11 million bpd.

“U.S. shale producers have been quietly capitalizing on higher oil prices with increasing rig counts seen. A staggering amount of 73 rotary rigs have been placed since January 2018,” said Benjamin Lu of Phillip Futures in a note on Tuesday.

“As such, we expect a softening in crude oil prices as markets adjust from a bullish streak,” he added.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is due to publish weekly U.S. fuel inventory data later on Tuesday while official government data, including on production, is due from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday.

Oil markets tense after western strikes on Syria, rising US drilling weighs

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  • Oil fell 1 percent on Monday as markets opened following western air strikes in Syria over the weekend.
  • Oil markets also came under pressure from a rise in U.S. oil drilling activity.

A pump jack and pipes at an oil field near Bakersfield, California.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
A pump jack and pipes at an oil field near Bakersfield, California.

Oil fell 1 percent on Monday as markets opened following western air strikes in Syria over the weekend, while a rise in U.S. drilling for new production also dragged on prices.

The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles on Saturday, targeting what they said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.

Brent crude oil futures were at $71.85 per barrel at 0547 GMT, down 73 cents, or 1 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 57 cents, or 0.9 percent, at $66.82 a barrel.

Traders said markets in Asia began cautiously after the weekend strikes, with some relief that the move looked unlikely to escalate.

“In the wake of the coordinated attack on Syria, oil prices are significantly lower … (but) the impact appears to be compact and over,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.

Oil markets also came under pressure from a rise in U.S. oil drilling activity.

U.S. energy companies added seven oil rigs drilling for new production in the week to April 13, bringing the total to 815, the highest since March 2015, energy services firm Baker Hughes said on Friday.

Despite this, Brent is still up more than 16 percent from its 2018 low in February, due to healthy demand and also because of conflict and tension in the Middle East.

Although Syria itself is not a significant oil producer, the wider Middle East is the world’s most important crude exporter and tension in the region tends to put oil markets on edge.

“Investors continued to worry about the impact of a wider conflict in the Middle East,” ANZ bank said.

Oil markets tense on Middle East crisis, US-China trade spat

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  • Oil markets remained tense on Thursday on concerns of a military escalation in Syria.
  • Prices were some way off Wednesday’s 2014 highs as bulging American supplies weighed.

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Oil markets remained tense on Thursday on concerns over a military escalation in Syria, although prices remained some way off Wednesday’s highest since late 2014 as bulging American supplies weighed.

Ongoing trade disputes between the United States and China also kept markets on edge, traders said.

Brent crude futures were at $72.14 per barrel at 0536 GMT, up 8 cents, or 0.1 percent from their last close.

U.S. WTI crude futures were at $67.03 a barrel, up 21 cents, or 0.3 percent from their last settlement.

In China, Shanghai crude futures were also up, rising 8.9 yuan to 427.1 yuan ($68.03) per barrel, up 2.1 percent and with record volumes traded on the product that was only launched in late March.

Both Brent and WTI hit their highest since late 2014 of $73.09 and $67.45 per barrel on Wednesday, respectively, after Saudi Arabia said it intercepted missiles over Riyadh and U.S. President Donald Trump warned Russia of imminent military action in Syria.

“Geopolitical risks outweighed an unexpected rise in inventories in the U.S.,” ANZ bank said on Thursday.

Ongoing concerns of a prolonged trade dispute between the United States and China are also keeping markets on edge.

China lashed out at the United States on Thursday saying that the trade disputes, in which both sides have threatened to impose tariffs on imports of several products, were “single-handedly provoked by the U.S.” and that Beijing was prepared to escalate the spat if Washington did not back off from its threatened import tariffs.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry also said there had been no bilateral negotiations with the United States on the trade frictions.

Although markets are tense, supplies remain ample especially due to the United States.

U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 3.3 million barrels to 428.64 million barrels.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil production last week hit a fresh record of 10.53 million barrels per day (bpd), up by a quarter since mid-2016.

The United States now produces more crude than top exporter Saudi Arabia. Only Russia, at currently just under 11 million bpd, pumps out more.

“Barring any geopolitical shocks, we see limited upside potential for oil prices from current levels due to ongoing oversupply, mainly from the U.S. and Russia, and also a slowing demand growth outlook,” said Georgi Slavov, head of research at commodities brokerage Marex Spectron.

Oil prices near 2014 highs over warnings of western air strikes against Syria

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  • Oil prices edged higher on Wednesday, adding to steep gains in the previous session.
  • Markets eyed an escalation of Middle East tensions after Europe’s air traffic control agency warned of possible air strikes on Syria in the next 72 hours.

A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Nick Oxford | Reuters
A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Oil prices edged higher on Wednesday, adding to steep gains in the previous session, as markets eyed an escalation of Middle East tensions after Europe’s air traffic control agency warned of possible air strikes on Syria in the next 72 hours.

Brent crude futures rose to $71.09 per barrel at 0104 GMT, up 7 cents from their last close. Brent surged more than 3 percent on Tuesday to hit its highest level since late 2014, at $71.34 a barrel.

U.S. WTI crude futures were at $65.63 a barrel, up 12 from their last settlement.

The United States and its allies are considering a strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces following a suspected poison gas attack last weekend.

Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within the next 72 hours, warning that there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment.

Although Syria itself is not a significant oil producer itself, the wider Middle East is the world’s most important crude exporter and tension in the region tends to put oil markets on edge.

Oil markets were also supported by easing concerns over a prolonged trade spat between the United States and China after China’s President Xi Jinping on Tuesday gave a speech with a conciliatory tone.

“The relaxation of tensions between the U.S. and China (is) allowing oil traders to exercise their worries over geopolitics,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.

Not all oil market indicators pointed to ongoing price rises, however.U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.8 million barrels in the week to April 6 to 429.1 million, according to a report by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 189,000 barrels.

And the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Tuesday that it expects domestic crude oil production in 2019 to rise by more than previously expected, driven largely by growing U.S. shale output.

In its monthly short-term energy outlook, the agency forecast that U.S. crude oil output will rise by 750,000 barrels per day to 11.44 million bpd next year. Last month, it expected a 570,000 bpd year-over-year increase to 11.27 million bpd.

That will likely make the United states the world’s biggest oil producer by 2019, surpassing Russia which currently pumps out almost 11 million bpd.