Oil prices hit 2019 highs amid OPEC-led supply cuts and US sanctions

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  • International benchmark Brent crude futures touched 2019 highs.
  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated suppliers including Russia are withholding supply in order to tighten the market and prop up prices.

Oil refinery and storage Australia

Jason Reed | Reuters

Brent crude oil prices hit 2019 highs above $65 per barrel on Friday, spurred by U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran as well as OPEC-led supply cuts.

Brent rose as high as $65.10, pushing past the $65 mark for the first time this year, before edging back to $64.97 a barrel by 0450 GMT. That was still 0.6 percent above the last close.

The international benchmark for oil prices is at a near 3-month high and set for a 4.6 percent gain for the week.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $54.70 per barrel, up 29 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last settlement.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated suppliers including Russia are withholding supply in order to tighten the market and prop up prices.

The producer group known as OPEC+ has agreed to cut crude output by a joint 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd). Top exporter Saudi Arabia said it would cut even more in March than the deal called for.

Russia has cut its oil production by 80,000-90,000 barrels per day from its level in October, Moscow’s reference level for its cuts, the country’s energy minister said.

“Brent should average $70 per barrel in 2019, helped by voluntary (Saudi, Kuwait, UAE) and involuntary (Venezuela, Iran) declines in OPEC supply,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.

It also expects “a 2.5 million barrels per day drop in OPEC supply from 4Q18 into 4Q19.”

Commodity investment firm Goehring & Rozencwajg (G&R) said that oil production from non-OPEC producers like Brazil, Mexico or the North Sea was also struggling, further tightening the market.

“The North Sea, Mexico and Brazil all disappointed and we expect this to continue going forward,” G&R said in a note published on Thursday.

Trade data in Refinitiv showed that combined crude oil shipments out of the North Sea, Mexico and Brazil were at 4.2 million bpd in January, down from 4.4 million bpd in December.

Standing against these declines is soaring U.S. crude production, which rose by more than 2 million bpd last year, to 11.9 million bpd, making America the world’s biggest oil producer.

Most analysts expect U.S. output to rise past 12 million bpd soon, and perhaps even hit 13 million bpd by the end of the year.

Rising U.S. shale oil supply, increasing spare capacity within OPEC and stagnating fuel consumption meant the medium-term oil price outlook was lower, BoAML said.

“We see growing downside risks to medium-term oil prices on rising U.S. supply and slower consumption,” the U.S. bank said. It expected Brent to range between $50 and $70 per barrel in the coming five years.

Oil prices rise on Beijing-Washington trade hopes, upbeat China data

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  • Both international benchmark Brent and U.S. crude futures gained.
  • Optimism that a trade deal could be reached between the United States and China was boosted when U.S. President Donald Trump said talks were going “very well”.
  • Markets were also supported by upbeat Chinese trade data, including for crude oil.

A Petrobras oil platform floats in the Atlantic Ocean near Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro.

Getty Images
A Petrobras oil platform floats in the Atlantic Ocean near Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro.

Oil prices rose on Thursday, buoyed by hopes that potential progress in the latest Sino-U.S. tariff talks would improve the global economic outlook, and as China’s trade figures including crude imports beat forecasts.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $54.16 per barrel at 0413 GMT, up 26 cents, or 0.5 percent, from their last settlement.

International Brent crude oil futures were up 37 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $63.98 a barrel.

Optimism that a trade deal could be reached between the United States and China was boosted when U.S. President Donald Trump said talks were going “very well”.

“The 90-day truce (on trade) agreed in December will run out on March 1, but given the progress of the talks there could be an extension, which is why there (is) rising optimism that the two leaders will meet later that month,” said Alfonso Esparza, senior market analyst, OANDA.

Markets were also supported by upbeat Chinese trade data, including for crude oil.

China’s crude oil imports in January rose 4.8 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, to an average of 10.03 million barrels per day (bpd), the third straight month that imports have exceeded the 10 million bpd mark.

Not all data pointed to tighter market conditions and higher prices.

Climbing U.S. oil stockpiles weighed on prices. U.S. crude oil inventories rose last week to the highest since November 2017 as refiners cut runs to the lowest since October 2017, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude inventories built for a fourth week in a row, rising 3.6 million barrels to 450.8 million barrels in the week to Feb. 8. Analysts polled by Reuters forecast an increase of 2.7 million barrels.

U.S. crude oil production remained at a record of 11.9 million barrels per day (bpd).

The global oil market will struggle this year to absorb fast-growing crude supply from outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), even with the group’s production cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, the International Energy Agency said in a report on Wednesday.

The IEA said it expected global oil demand this year to grow by 1.4 million bpd, while non-OPEC supply will grow by 1.8 million bpd.

Oil rises 1 percent on deepening OPEC supply cuts, sanctions on Venezuela

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  • Both international Brent and U.S. crude futures saw gains.
  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which Saudi Arabia de-facto leads as the world’s top crude oil exporter, said on Tuesday that it had cut its output by almost 800,000 bpd in January to 30.81 million bpd.
  • Supply issues in OPEC-member Venezuela are also bolstering oil prices as the South American country suffers a political and economic crisis, with Washington introducing petroleum export sanctions against state-owned energy firm PDVSA.

Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.

Oil prices rose on Wednesday as producer club OPEC said it had cut supply deeply in January and as U.S. sanctions hit Venezuela’s oil exports.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $53.70 per barrel at 0344 GMT, up 60 cents, or 1.1 percent, from their last close.

International Brent crude futures were up 1.1 percent, or 69 cents, at $63.11 per barrel.

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore, said oil prices were boosted after “Saudi Arabia announced it was cutting daily production and exports by a further 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) on top of its agreed OPEC quota cut”.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which Saudi Arabia de-facto leads as the world’s top crude oil exporter, said on Tuesday that it had cut its output by almost 800,000 bpd in January to 30.81 million bpd.

Supply issues in OPEC-member Venezuela are also bolstering oil prices as the South American country suffers a political and economic crisis, with Washington introducing petroleum export sanctions against state-owned energy firm PDVSA.

Despite the political rifts between Venezuela and the United States, U.S. refiners have in the past been some of the biggest buyers of Venezuelan crude.

These customers have fallen away after Washington imposed sanctions earlier this year.

“With so far no sign of change in government, we see increasing risks that production losses could be larger and sooner than our forecast for a 0.33 million-bpd supply loss in 2019,” U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said in a note on Wednesday.

Venezuela has tried to find alternative customers, especially in Asia, but under U.S. pressure many buyers there are also shying away from dealing with PDVSA.

“Oil production is rapidly falling and companies that normally resell Venezuelan crude have not found ways to mitigate the effect of the U.S. sanctions,” Barclays bank said.

Weakening demand

Despite the OPEC cuts and crisis in Venezuela, analysts said global oil markets remain well supplied.

“Oil markets continue to focus at the macro level on the dual notions of adequate supply and softening demand,” Frank Verrastro, senior vice president for the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a U.S. think-tank, said in a note.

He added that markets were amply supplied due to “adequate global oil inventories, the prospect of weakened demand tied both to U.S.-China trade and broader economic concerns, the approach of seasonal refinery maintenance – when crude oil demand declines – and an influx of new supply from the United States and elsewhere”.

Most new supply is coming from the United States, where crude production <C-OUT-T-EIA> rose by more than 2 million bpd last year to a record 11.9 million bpd, making the country the world’s biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

And while OPEC and its allies, including Russia, withhold supply, U.S. output is expected to rise further, with the Energy Information Administration saying on Tuesday that U.S. crude production is expected to reach 13.2 million bpd by 2020.

US crude settles 0.6% lower at $52.41 per barrel as slow progress in trade talks counters OPEC cuts

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Oil tanker

Jean-Paul Pelissier | Reuters

Oil prices fell on Monday as worries surrounding the resumption of U.S.-China trade talks overshadowed support from OPEC-led supply restraint.

Brent crude futures lost 63 cents, or 1 percent to $61.46 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled 0.6 percent lower at $52.41 per barrel.

Trade talks between the United States and China resumed with working level discussions before high-level discussions later in the week.

While Beijing struck an upbeat note, it also expressed anger at a U.S. Navy mission through the disputed South China Sea. This cast a shadow as the two countries try to reach a deal before the March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent.

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he did not plan to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline, dampening hopes of a quick trade pact.

Escalating U.S.-China trade tensions have cost both countries billions of dollars and disrupted global trade and business flows, roiling financial markets.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going on with this trade war, whether they’re going to get anything done,” said Phil Flynn, oil analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “You’ve got concerns about slowing growth.”

Still, oil prices have been buoyed this year by output curbs from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.

The deal, effective from January, aims to cut 1.2 million barrels per day until the end of June to forestall an supply overhang. Suhail Al Mazrouei, the Energy Minister of the United Arab Emirates, said on Monday the oil market should achieve this balance in the first quarter of 2019.

OPEC and its allies meet on April 17 and 18 in Vienna to review the agreement, but a draft cooperation charter seen by Reuters fell short of a new formal alliance among the producers.

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, along with older sanctions on fellow OPEC member Iran, have also prevented crude prices from falling further.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has sought OPEC support against the sanctions, citing their impact on oil prices and potential risks for other members of the producer group.

Oil prices fall as U.S. rig count rise, trade concerns

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  • Both U.S. and Brent crude futures slipped.
  • In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday.

Oil tanker

Jean-Paul Pelissier | Reuters

Oil prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as drilling activity in the United States, the world’s largest oil producer, picked up and financial markets were pulled down by trade concerns.

A refinery fire in the U.S. state of Illinois, which resulted in the shutdown of a large crude distillation unit, that could cause crude demand to fall also weighed on prices, traders said.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $52.09 per barrel at 0347 GMT, down 63 cents, or 1.2 percent, from their last settlement.

International Brent crude oil futures were down 49 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $61.61 a barrel.

In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday.

Companies added seven oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd.

WTI prices were also weighed down by the closure of a 120,000-barrels-per-day (bpd) crude distillation unit (CDU) at Phillips 66’sWood River, Illinois, refinery following a fire on Sunday.

Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

The so-called OPEC+ deal has been in place since 2017, aimed at reining in a global supply overhang. It has been extended several times and, under the latest deal, participants are cutting output by 1.2 million bpd until the end of June.

OPEC and its allies will meet on April 17 and 18 in Vienna to review the pact.

Analysts said economic concerns were also weighing on crude oil futures.

Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights said in a note that crude prices were dragged down “as China returned from a week-long Lunar New Year holiday and regional stock markets plunged into the red amid resurgent concerns over the U.S.-China trade dispute.”

Trade talks between the Washington and Beijing resume this week with a delegation of U.S. officials travelling to China for the next round of negotiations. The United States has threatened to increase tariffs already imposed on goods from China on March 1 if the trade talks do not produce an agreement.

Preventing crude prices from falling further have been U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, targeting its state-owned oil firm Petroleos de Venezeula SA (PDVSA).

“The issues in Venezuela continue to support prices. Reports are emerging that PDVSA is scrambling to secure new markets for its crude, after the U.S. placed additional sanctions on the country,” ANZ bank said on Monday.