Venezuelan streets quieter than usual after opposition strike call

People queue to withdraw cash from automated teller machines (ATM) at a Mercantil bank branch in Caracas, Venezuela August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s streets were quieter than normal on Tuesday but many businesses remained open despite an opposition call for a national strike to protest economic measures announced by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The OPEC nation on Monday cut five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation as part of a broad set of measures meant to address an economic crisis, including pegging the country’s currency to an obscure state-backed cryptocurrency.

Opposition critics slammed the plan as inadequate in the face of inflation that topped 82,000 percent in July and called for a one-day halt of commercial activities.

“Don’t got to work, you have the right to protest, because what’s at stake is your life, your future, and your country. Rebel!” opposition party Popular Will wrote via its Twitter account.

Maduro declared Monday a national holiday for banks and consumers to get accustomed to the new pricing scheme, under which items that cost 1,000,000 bolivars last week were remarked with price tags of 10 bolivars.

Fedecamaras, the country’s main business group, slammed the proposal as “incoherent,” noting that the plan’s 3,000 percent minimum wage increase would make it impossible for businesses to keep their doors open.

But the group did not take a position on the opposition-led strike, saying individual members should choose on their own.

Venezuelan 100 bolivar notes thrown by people in a trash bin are seen at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuelan 100 bolivar notes thrown by people in a trash bin are seen at a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The ruling Socialist Party announced a march on Tuesday morning to support Maduro’s economic measures that was scheduled to end with a rally at the presidential palace.

The collapse of the country’s once-booming economy has fueled hunger and disease, spurring an exodus of migrants to nearby countries.

In recent days, Ecuador and Peru tightened visa requirements for Venezuelans and violence drove hundreds of Venezuelan migrants back across the border with Brazil.

The discontent has also spread to the military, as soldiers struggle to get enough food and many desert by leaving the country.

Two high-ranking military officers were arrested this month for alleged involvement in drone explosions during a speech by Maduro, who called it an assassination attempt.

Maduro says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by the opposition with the help of Washington, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against his government and high-ranking officials.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao)

China defies U.S. pressure as EU parts ways with Iranian oil

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

By Chen Aizhu and Florence Tan

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China, seeking to skirt U.S. sanctions, will use oil tankers from Iran for its purchases of that country’s crude, throwing Tehran a lifeline while European companies such as France’s Total are walking away due to fear of reprisals from Washington.

The United States is trying to halt Iranian oil exports in an effort to force Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear agreement and to curb its influence in the Middle East.

China, which has cut imports of U.S. crude amid a trade war with Washington, has said it opposes unilateral sanctions and defended its commercial ties with Iran.

On Monday, sources told Reuters Chinese buyers of Iranian oil were beginning to shift their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) for nearly all their imports.

The shift demonstrates that China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, wants to keep buying Iranian crude despite the sanctions, which were reimposed after the United States withdrew in May from a 2015 agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“The shift started very recently, and it was almost a simultaneous call from both sides,” said one source, a senior Beijing-based oil executive, who asked not to be identified as he is not allowed to speak publicly about commercial deals.

Tehran used a similar system between 2012 and 2016 to circumvent Western-led sanctions, which had curtailed exports by making it virtually impossible to obtain shipping insurance for business with Iran.

Iran, OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, relies on sales of crude to China, Japan, South Korea, India and the EU to generate the lion’s share of budget revenues and keep its economy afloat.

The United States has asked buyers of Iranian oil to cut imports from November. Japan, South Korea, India and most European countries have already slashed operations.

French oil major Total, previously one of the biggest European buyers of Iranian oil, has said it had no choice but to halt imports and abandon Iranian projects to safeguard its operations in the United States.

On Monday, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Total had officially left Iran’s South Pars gas project.

Total later confirmed it had notified the Iranian authorities of its withdrawal from South Pars after it failed to obtain a waiver from U.S. sanctions.

Iranian officials had earlier suggested China’s state-owned CNPC could take over Total’s stake and Zanganeh said the process to replace the French company was under way.

“As for the future of Total’s share, we have not been informed of an official CNPC position, but as we have always said, CNPC, a Chinese state-owned company, has the right to resume our participation if it decides so,” Total said in an emailed statement.

WALK AWAY

French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly called for safeguarding the Iranian nuclear deal and defended the interests of EU companies in Iran.

But most European companies have conceded that they would be forced to walk away from Tehran for fear of sanctions and losing access to operations that require U.S. dollars.

The first round of U.S. sanctions, which included cutting off Iran and any businesses that trade with it from the U.S. financial system, went into effect on Aug. 7.

A ban on Iranian oil purchases will start in November. Insurers, which are mainly U.S.- or European-based, have begun winding down their Iranian business to comply with the sanctions.

To safeguard their supplies, state oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp and Sinopec Group, Asia’s biggest refiner, have activated a clause in long-term supply agreements with National Iranian Oil Corp (NIOC) that allows them to use NITC-operated tankers, four sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The price for oil under the long-term deals has been changed to a delivered ex-ship basis from the previous free-on-board terms, meaning Iran will cover all costs and risks of delivering the crude as well as handling the insurance, they said.

In July, all 17 tankers chartered to carry oil from Iran to China were operated by NITC, according to shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon. In June, eight of 19 vessels chartered were Chinese-operated.

Last month, those tankers loaded about 23.8 million barrels of crude oil and condensate destined for China, or about 767,000 barrels per day (bpd). In June, the loadings were 19.8 million barrels, or 660,000 bpd.

In 2017, China imported an average of 623,000 bpd, according to customs data.

Sinopec declined to comment. A spokesperson for Nam Kwong Group, the parent of Zhenrong, declined to comment.

NIOC did not respond to an email seeking comment. An NITC spokesman said it would forward a request from Reuters for a comment to the country’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

It was not immediately clear how Iran would provide insurance for the Chinese oil purchases, worth some $1.5 billion a month. Insurance usually includes cover for the oil cargoes, third-party liability, and pollution.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara and Cyril Altmeyer in Paris; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Trump’s revenge: U.S. oil floods Europe, hurting OPEC and Russia

FILE PHOTO: A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Company near Guthrie, Oklahoma September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Olga Yagova and Libby George

MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) – As OPEC’s efforts to balance the oil market bear fruit, U.S. producers are reaping the benefits – and flooding Europe with a record amount of crude.

Russia paired with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last year in cutting oil output jointly by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd), a deal they say has largely rebalanced the market and one that has helped elevate benchmark Brent prices <LCOc1> close to four-year highs.

Now, the relatively high prices brought about by that pact, coupled with surging U.S. output, are making it harder to sell Russian, Nigerian and other oil grades in Europe, traders said.

“U.S. oil is on offer everywhere,” said a trader with a Mediterranean refiner, who regularly buys Russian and Caspian Sea crude and has recently started purchasing U.S. oil. “It puts local grades under a lot of pressure.”

U.S. oil output is expected to hit 10.7 million bpd this year, rivaling that of top producers Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In April, U.S. supplies to Europe are set to reach an all-time high of roughly 550,000 bpd (around 2.2 million tonnes), according to the Thomson Reuters Eikon trade flows monitor.

In January-April, U.S. supplies jumped four-fold year-on-year to 6.8 million tonnes, or 68 large Aframax tankers, according to the same data.

Trade sources said U.S. flows to Europe would keep rising, with U.S. barrels increasingly finding homes in foreign refineries, often at the expense of oil from OPEC or Russia.

In 2017, Europe took roughly 7 percent of U.S. crude exports, Reuters data showed, but the proportion has already risen to roughly 12 percent this year.

Top destinations include Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, with traders pointing to large imports by BP, Exxon Mobil and Valero.

Polish refiners PKN Orlen and Grupa Lotos and Norway’s Statoil are sampling U.S. grades, while other new buyers are likely, David Wech of Vienna-based JBC Energy consultancy said.

“There are a number of customers who still may test U.S. crude oil,” Wech said.

The gains for U.S. suppliers could come as a welcome development for U.S. President Donald Trump, who accused OPEC on Friday of “artificially” boosting oil prices.

“Looks like OPEC is at it again. With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea. Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

‘KEY SUPPLY SOURCE’

While the United States lifted its oil export ban in late 2015, the move took time to gain traction among Europe’s traditional refineries, which were slow to diversify away from crude from the North Sea, West Africa and the Caspian.

“European refiners started experimenting with U.S. crude last year,” said Ehsan Ul-Haq, director of London-based consultancy Resource Economics. “Now, they know more than enough to process this crude.”

U.S. oil gained in popularity, sources said, in part because of the wide gap between West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, and dated Brent, which is more expensive and sets the price for most of the world’s crude grades.

This gap, known as the Brent/WTI spread, has averaged $4.46 per barrel this year, nearly twice as high as the year-earlier figure, Reuters data showed.

Wech of JBC Energy said the spread would likely persist in the near future.

The most popular U.S. grades in Europe are WTI, Light Louisiana Sweet, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Mars.

Prices for alternative local grades have been slashed as a result.

CPC Blend differentials recently hit a six-year low versus dated Brent at minus $2 a barrel. Russia’s Urals also came under pressure despite the end of seasonal refinery maintenance. BFO-CPC BFO-URL-BFO-URL-NWE

WTI was available at 80-90 cent premiums delivered to Italy’s Augusta, well below offers of Azeri BTC at a premium of $1.60 a barrel, according to trading sources.

U.S. oil is even edging out North Sea Forties, which is produced in the backyard of the continent’s refineries.

Cargoes of WTI were offered in Rotterdam at premiums of around 50-60 cents a barrel above dated Brent, cheaper than Forties’ premium of 75 cents to dated.

(Additional reporting by Julia Payne and Devika Krishna Kumar; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Oil hits highest since July 2015 as producers say market rebalancing

A gas station worker pumps gas into a car at a gas station of the state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 29, 2017.

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices hit a more than two-year high on Monday after major producers said the global market was on its way toward re-balancing, while Turkey threatened to cut oil flows from Iraq’s Kurdistan region toward its ports.

The November Brent crude futures contract was up $1.51, or 2.5 percent, at $58.37 a barrel by 11:33 a.m. EDT, its highest since July, 2015.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery rose $1.02, or 2 percent, to $51.68 a barrel, close to highs last seen in May.

“It’s all driven by the idea is that the production cut is starting to work and the rebalance is underway,” said Gene McGillian, director of market research at Tradition Energy in New York.

Even as both contracts rallied, concerns about U.S. production growth weighed on WTI, widening the spread between the two, he said.

The discount of the WTI to Brent futures widened to $6.61, the widest since August 2015.

Turkey has said it could cut off a pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the global market, putting more pressure on the Kurdish autonomous region over its independence referendum.

The Iraqi government does not recognize the referendum and has called on foreign countries to stop importing Kurdish crude oil.

“If this boycott call proves successful, a good 500,000 fewer barrels of crude oil per day would reach the market,” Commerzbank said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and several other producers have cut production by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) since the start of 2017, helping to lift oil prices by about 15 percent in the past three months.

Kuwaiti Oil Minister Essam al-Marzouq, who chaired Friday’s meeting in Vienna of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, said output curbs were helping to cut global crude inventories to their five-year average, OPEC’s stated target.

Russia’s energy minister said no decision on extending output curbs beyond the end of March was expected before January, although other ministers suggested such a decision could be taken before the end of this year.

Iran expects to maintain overall crude and condensate exports at around 2.6 million bpd for the rest of 2017, a senior official from the country’s state oil company said.

The energy minister from the United Arab Emirates said the country’s compliance with OPEC’s supply cuts was 100 percent.

Nigeria is pumping below its agreed output cap, its oil minister said.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori in Tokyo and Fanny Potkin in London; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jane Merriman)

 

Oil markets roiled as Harvey hits U.S. petroleum industry

An oil tank damaged by Hurricane Harvey is seen near Seadrift, Texas, August 26, 2017

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil markets were roiled on Monday after Tropical Storm Harvey wreaked havoc along the U.S. Gulf Coast over the weekend, crippling Houston and its port, and knocking out several refineries as well as some crude production.

U.S. gasoline prices hit two-year highs as massive floods caused by the storm forced refineries in the area to close. In turn, U.S. crude futures fell as the refinery shutdowns could reduce demand for American crude.

Brent futures steadied as pipeline blockades in Libya slashed the OPEC state’s output by nearly 400,000 barrels per day .

Harvey is the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, killing at least two people, causing large-scale flooding, and forcing the closure of Houston port as well as several refineries.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Harvey was moving away from the coast but was expected to linger close to the shore through Tuesday. It said floods would spread from Texas eastward to Louisiana.

Texas is home to 5.6 million bpd of refining capacity, and Louisiana has 3.3 million bpd. Over 2 million bpd of refining capacity was estimated to be offline as a result of the storm.

Spot prices for U.S. gasoline futures surged 7 percent to a peak of $1.7799 per gallon, the highest level since late July 2015, before easing to $1.7341 by 1341 GMT.

U.S. traders were seeking oil product cargoes from North Asia, several refining and shipping sources told Reuters, with transatlantic exports of motor fuel out of Europe expected to surge.

“Global refining margins are going to stay very strong,” said Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix.

“If (U.S.) refineries shut down for more than a week, Asia will need to run at a higher level, because there’s no spare capacity in Europe.”

About 22 percent, or 379,000 bpd, of Gulf production was idled due to the storm as of Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

There might also be around 300,000 bpd of onshore U.S. production shut in, trading sources said.

Brent crude futures were up 2 cents at $52.43 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate  crude futures  were down 50 cents at $47.37.

The price moves pushed the WTI discount versus Brent to as much as $5.24 per barrel, the widest in two years.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson and Edmund Blair)

 

Helicopter attacks Venezuela court, Maduro denounces coup bid

Demonstrators holding a Venezuelan flag attend a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Silene Ramírez and Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS (Reuters) – A Venezuelan police helicopter strafed the Supreme Court and a government ministry on Tuesday, escalating the OPEC nation’s political crisis in what President Nicolas Maduro called an attack by “terrorists” seeking a coup.

The aircraft fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry, where scores of people were at a social event, and dropped four grenades on the court, where judges were meeting, officials said.

However, there were no reports of injuries.

“Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country,” Maduro said.

“They could have caused dozens of deaths,” he said.

The 54-year-old socialist leader has faced three months of protests from opposition leaders who decry him as a dictator who has wrecked a once-prosperous economy. There has been growing dissent too from within government and the security forces.

At least 75 people have died, and hundreds more been injured and arrested, in the anti-government unrest since April.

Demonstrators are demanding general elections, measures to alleviate a brutal economic crisis, freedom for hundreds of jailed opposition activists, and independence for the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature.

Maduro says they are seeking a coup against him with the encouragement of a U.S. government eager to gain control of Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world.

Venezuela’s government said in a communique the helicopter was stolen by investigative police pilot Oscar Perez, who declared himself in rebellion against Maduro.

Images shared on social and local media appear to show Perez waving a banner from the helicopter reading “Liberty”, and the number “350” in large letters.

The number refers to the constitutional article allowing people the right to oppose an undemocratic government.

A video posted on Perez’ Instagram account around the same time showed him standing in front of several hooded armed men, saying an operation was underway to restore democracy.

Perez said in the video he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian officials opposed to the “criminal” government, urged Maduro’s resignation and called for general elections. “This fight is … against the vile government. Against tyranny,” he said.

Local media also linked Perez to a 2015 action film, Suspended Death, which he co-produced and starred in as an intelligence agent rescuing a kidnapped businessman.

On Tuesday, witnesses reported hearing several detonations in downtown Caracas, where the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, the presidential palace and other key government buildings are located.

Opponents to Maduro view the Interior Ministry as a bastion of repression and also hate the Supreme Court for its string of rulings bolstering the president’s power and undermining the opposition-controlled legislature.

VOTE CONTROVERSY

Opposition leaders have long been calling on Venezuela’s security forces to stop obeying Maduro.

However, there was also some speculation among opposition supporters on social media that the attack could have been staged to justify repression or cover up drama at Venezuela’s National Assembly, where two dozen lawmakers said they were being besieged by pro-government gangs.

Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro warned that he and supporters would take up arms if his socialist government was violently overthrown by opponents.

“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what couldn’t be done with votes, we would do with arms, we would liberate the fatherland with arms,” he said.

Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chavez in 2013, is pushing a July 30 vote for a special super-body called a Constituent Assembly, which could rewrite the national charter and supersede other institutions such as the opposition-controlled congress.

He has touted the assembly as the only way to bring peace to Venezuela. But opponents, who want to bring forward the next presidential election scheduled for late 2018, say it is a sham poll designed purely to keep the socialists in power.

They are boycotting the vote, and protesting daily on the streets to try and have it stopped.

Maduro said the “destruction” of Venezuela would lead to a huge refugee wave dwarfing the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

“Listen, President Donald Trump,” he said earlier on Tuesday. “You would have to build 20 walls in the sea, a wall from Mississippi to Florida, from Florida to New York, it would be crazy … You have the responsibility: stop the madness of the violent Venezuelan right wing.”

Opposition to the July 30 vote has come not just from Venezuelan opposition parties but also from the chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega and one-time government heavyweights such as former intelligence service boss Miguel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez criticized Maduro for not holding a referendum before the Constituent Assembly election, as his predecessor Chavez had done in 1999.

“This is a country without government, this is chaos,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “The people are left out … They (the government) are seeking solutions outside the constitution.”

The government said pilot Perez was linked to Rodriguez.

Neither men, nor representatives for them, could be reached immediately to comment on the accusations.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Girish Gupta, Eyanir Chinea, Andrew Cawthorne and Andreina Aponte; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Andrew Hay, Paul Tait and Himani Sarkar)

Weaker dollar helps lift oil, supply worries persist

An oil derrick and wind turbines stand above the plains north of Amarillo, Texas, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Sabina Zawadzki

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Friday, helped by a weaker dollar, as investors weighed the impact of OPEC production cuts against rising U.S. shale oil output and persistently high inventories.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Thursday oil output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers could be extended beyond June if oil stocks stayed above a long-term average.

But analysts said the comments gave limited support because Riyadh has said it needs cooperation to rebalance the market and non-OPEC producers, such as Russia, have yet to deliver fully on reduction commitments in the first half of 2017.

Brent crude was up 31 cents at $52.05 a barrel by 1102 GMT. U.S. light crude was up 33 cents at $49.08.

“The market remains relatively calm today with concerns about having to extend the production cut deal being offset by a weaker dollar,” said Saxo Bank head of commodity strategy Ole Hansen.

Oil prices, which lost ground earlier on Friday, have found some support from dollar weakness after the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated it would not accelerate plans for rate rises. The fall in the greenback boosted dollar-denominated crude.

Investors will also look for more direction from data due later on Friday. The Baker Hughes weekly rig count will indicate activity in the U.S. shale industry and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission releases calculations of net long and short positions in the crude futures market.

Oil prices fell sharply last week on concerns that OPEC-led production cuts were not reducing the global supply overhang as quickly as expected in the face of increased U.S. output.

OPEC and non-OPEC members reached agreement last year to cut output by a combined 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first half of 2017.

But OPEC’s monthly report showed global oil inventories rose in January to 278 million barrels above the five-year average.

Investors took some comfort from a dip in U.S. stockpiles in the week to March 10, after nine weekly rises. However, the fall in U.S. inventories was a modest 237,000 barrels, leaving 528 million barrels in storage, close to record highs. [EIA/S]

In a further sign that OPEC’s efforts have had little impact so far, oil shipments to Asia have increased 3 percent since the OPEC supply cut deal was made.

(Additional reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Oil Rises but growing U.S. output threatens Rally

A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota

By Amanda Cooper

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil edged up on Monday, as investor optimism over the effectiveness of producer cuts encouraged record bets on a sustained price rise, although growing U.S. output and stubbornly high stockpiles kept price gains in check.

Brent futures were up 28 cents at $56.09 a barrel at 1448 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 23 cents at $53.63.

Investors have certainly taken OPEC members at their word on their commitment to cut production and now hold more crude futures and options than at any time on record.

But evidence of rising output in the United States has tempered money managers’ appetite to push prices higher. Since the start of the month oil prices have gained around $2.

“There is still a general consensus that the OPEC/non-OPEC agreement helps supply to get in line with demand. This bullish stance is countered by the ever-increasing inventories in the U.S. and rising rig counts,” PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers, including Russia, agreed last year to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) during the first half of 2017.

Estimates indicate compliance with the cuts is around 90 percent, while Reuters reported last week that OPEC could extend the pact or apply deeper cuts from July if global crude inventories fail to drop enough.

Top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia’s crude oil shipments fell in December to 8.014 million bpd from 8.258 million bpd in November, official data showed on Monday.

“Sustained gains above $55 a barrel, and a hoped-for rally to $60 a barrel, (are) both proving incredibly tough nuts to crack,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

“At the crux of the matter is that 90 percent OPEC compliance is being balanced by ever increasing U.S. shale production,” he added.

U.S. energy companies added oil rigs for a fifth consecutive week, Baker Hughes said on Friday, extending a nine-month recovery with producers encouraged by higher prices, which have largely traded above $50 a barrel since late November.

“Assuming the U.S. oil rig count stays at the current level, we estimate U.S. oil production would increase by 405,000 (barrels per day, or bpd) between fourth quarter 2017 and fourth quarter 2016 across the Permian, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Niobrara shale plays,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

The U.S. market will be closed on Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Louise Heavens/Ruth Pitchford)

Oil price slides on prospect of rising U.S. production

Gas nozzles

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Wednesday on expectations that U.S. producers would boost output, just as OPEC signaled that a global supply-reduction deal will shrink the oil glut this year.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were down 75 cents $54.72 a barrel at 1230 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were trading down 81 cents at $51.67 per barrel.

U.S. shale production is set to snap a three-month decline in February, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Tuesday, as energy firms boost drilling activity with crude prices hovering near 18-month highs.

February production will edge up 40,750 barrels per day (bpd) to 4.748 million bpd, the EIA said. In January, it was expected to drop by 5,900 bpd.

“It’s the eternal question about the current flat price and what it does to U.S. crude oil production,” Petromatrix oil strategist Olivier Jakob said.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, excluding Indonesia, pumped 33.085 million barrels per day (bpd) last month, according to figures OPEC collects from secondary sources, down 221,000 bpd from November, OPEC said in a monthly report on Wednesday.

OPEC cut its forecast of supply in 2017 from non-member countries following pledges by Russia and other non-members to join OPEC in limiting output.

OPEC now expects non-OPEC supply to rise by 120,000 bpd this year, down from growth of 300,000 bpd last month, despite an upwardly revised forecast of U.S. supply.

Under the agreement, OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers have pledged to cut oil output by nearly 1.8 million bpd, initially for six months, to bring supplies back in line with consumption.

The output cuts agreed by OPEC and others are likely to come largely from field and refinery maintenance, BMI Research said in a note. It said oil producers are expected to use lower volumes needed for domestic power generation in a bid to maintain export volumes.

“Sticking to output targets is important but export volumes from the participating countries are a much better indicator of how the cuts will affect the market,” it said.

“Participating members are keen not to sacrifice vital export revenue so are trying to find ways to limit domestic crude usage in order to prioritize filling their contracts to foreign refiners.”

A committee responsible for monitoring compliance with the agreement meets in Vienna on Jan. 21-22.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore. Editing by Jane Merriman and David Evans)

Oil prices down, but set for biggest yearly gain since 2009

A worker fills a tank with subsidized fuel at a fuel station in Jakarta

By Ethan Lou

(Reuters) – Oil prices were down on Friday, but were still on track for their biggest annual gain since 2009 after OPEC and other major producers agreed to cut output to reduce a global supply overhang that has depressed prices for two years.

U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 25 cents at $53.52 a barrel by 9:38 a.m. EST on Friday, while Brent fell 26 cents to $56.59.

Brent has risen about 50 percent this year and WTI has climbed around 43 percent, the largest annual gains since 2009, when Brent and WTI rose 78 percent and 71 percent respectively.

Oil prices have more than halved since the summer of 2014, when it was above $100 a barrel. The fall in prices due to oversupply, in part thanks to the U.S. shale oil revolution, was accentuated later that year when Saudi Arabia rejected any OPEC deal to cut output and instead fought for market share.

But a new agreement to reduce production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), struck over three months from September this year, marks a return to the 13-country group’s old objective of defending prices.

Oman told some customers it will reduce term allocations by 5 percent in March, but did not say whether the supply reduction would continue after that.

Although doubts remain as to the production cuts’ effectiveness in implementation, the rise in prices can be seen as “proof of international credibility,” for OPEC and partners, said Igor Yusufov, founder of the Fund Energy investment firm and a former Russian energy minister.

Equally as important to oil prices next year will be the development of demand globally, and major forecasters diverge in their predictions.

“We see a big variation in demand growth assessments for 2017, ranging from +1.22 million bpd (barrels per day) … to +1.57 million b/d,” analysts at JBC said in a note to clients.

“Overall, all forecasters agree that Asia will remain the main engine for demand growth.”

Oil will gradually rise towards $60 per barrel by the end of 2017, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday, with further upside capped by a strong dollar, a likely recovery in U.S. oil output, and possible non-compliance with agreed cuts.

The market on Friday shrugged off an unexpected increase in U.S. crude inventories, which rose 614,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 23 according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Analysts had expected a decrease of 2.1 million barrels.

(Reporting by Ethan Lou in Kingston, Ontario; Additional reporting by Sabina Zawadzki in London and Mark Tay in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson and Chizu Nomiyama)