Oil jumps as Brent tops US$70, with inventory data on tap

If the US Energy Department data on Jan 24 also shows an increase in inventories, it would break a nine-week streak of drawdowns that has helped US crude supply decline to its lowest since Feb 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Oil rose more than 1 per cent on Tuesday (Jan 23), with benchmark Brent crude hitting US$70 a barrel for the first time in a week, boosted by healthy world economic growth prospects and expectations for continued production curbs by OPEC, Russia and their allies.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures closed up 90 cents to US$64.47 a barrel, for a gain of 1.4 per cent. WTI reached its highest since December 2014 on Jan 16 at US$64.89.

Brent crude futures settled up 93 cents, or 1.4 per cent, to US$69.96, not far off the three-year high of US$70.37 reached on Jan 15.

Futures pared some gains in post-settlement trading after weekly inventory figures from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed a surprise 4.8 million-barrel increase in crude oil stocks for last week.

If the US Energy Department data on Wednesday also shows an increase in inventories, it would break a nine-week streak of drawdowns that has helped US crude supply decline to its lowest since Feb 2015. Analysts forecast a 1.6 million-barrel draw in Reuters poll.

Still, US crude futures were up 82 cents to US$64.39 a barrel, not far from the day's settlement, as crude had rallied on thin volumes headed into the release.

"I really think US crude inventories are about to even out and probably show some modest builds over the next few weeks which would be seasonal as we head into turnarounds," said Andrew Lebow, senior partner at CRG Associates. "Perhaps this will blunt the rally and let some of the excess length out of the market."

The International Monetary Fund on Monday revised upward its forecast for world economic growth, which could help demand for petroleum products. It comes as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers continue their supply-cut agreement which began in January 2017 and is due to run until the end of 2018.

Opec's main objective for the cuts is to eliminate a global surplus in oil stocks and rebalance the market. There is some expectation that Opec will let the agreement expire at the end of 2018, but major producers have not yet suggested that this is in the offing.

The sharp plunge in Venezuelan production is offsetting increases from the United States, which is on the cusp of breaking its all-time production record of 10.04 million barrels per day.

Venezuela's output fell to a meager 2 million bpd in 2017, far short of expectations for 2.5 million bpd, and the International Energy Agency said it could keep declining in 2018.

"Six months ago there was a lot of consternation about how fast (US) production might grow but that's been offset by Venezuelan volatility," said Tony Scott, managing director of analytics at BTU Analytics in Denver.

He added that with Saudi and Iranian production likely to remain steady throughout the year, it was hard to see an increase in supply that would undermine the rally.

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