Oil prices hit highest since 2014, but analysts warn of overheated market

US oil prices have hit their highest since 2014 due to production cuts led by OPEC as well as healthy demand, although analysts caution that markets may be overheating.
A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Company near Guthrie, Oklahoma.
A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Company near Guthrie, Oklahoma. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Oil prices hit their highest levels since 2014 on Wednesday (Jan 10)due to ongoing production cuts led by Opec as well as healthy demand, although analysts cautioned that markets may be overheating.

A broad global market rally, including stocks, has also been fuelling investment into crude oil futures.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at US$63.47 a barrel at 0405 GMT - 51 cents, or 0.81 per cent, above their last settlement. They marked a December-2014 high of US$63.53 a barrel in early trading.

Brent crude futures were at US$69.19 a barrel, 37 cents, or 0.54 per cent, above their last close. Brent touched US$69.29 in late Tuesday trading, its strongest since an intra-day spike in May 2015 and, before that, in December 2014.

"The extension of the OPEC agreement ... and declining inventories are all helping to drive the price higher," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia's Rivkin Securities.

In an effort to prop up prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) together with Russia and a group of other producers last November extended an output cut deal that was due to expire in March this year to cover all of 2018.

The cuts, which have mostly targeted Europe and North America, were aimed at reducing a global supply overhang that had dogged oil markets since 2014.

The American Petroleum Institute said late on Tuesday that crude inventories fell by 11.2 million barrels in the week to Jan 5, to 416.6 million barrels.

Official US Energy Information Administration data is due at 1530 GMT on Wednesday.

OAmid the general bull-run, which has pushed up crude prices by more than 13 per cent since early December, there are indicators of an overheated market.

In the United States, crude oil production is expected to break through 10 million barrels per day (bpd) this month, reaching levels only Russia and Saudi Arabia have achieved.

In Asia, the world's biggest oil consuming region, refiners are suffering from high prices and ample fuel supplies.

"One area of concern, particularly in Asia, is that of (low) refining margins ... This drop in margins could reduce Asian refiners' demand for incremental crude in the near term and weigh on global prices," said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.

Average Singapore refinery margins this week fell below $6 per barrel, their lowest seasonal value in five years, due to high fuel availability but also because the recent rise in feedstock crude prices dented profits.

Asian oil prices are higher than in the rest of the world.

While Brent and WTI are still below US$70 per barrel, the average price for Asian crude oil grades has already risen above that level, to US$70.62 per barrel, Thomson Reuters Eikon data showed.