Oil prices hover near eight-week highs on lower US stocks

oilSINGAPORE: Oil prices were sitting just below eight-week highs on Thursday, buoyed by hopes that a steeper-than-expected decline in US crude oil inventories will reduce global oversupply.

Brent crude futures were down 9 cents, or 0.1 percent, at US$50.88 a barrel at 0655 GMT, after rising about 1.5% in the previous session.

US West Texas Intermediate futures were down 8 cents, or 0.2%, at US$48.67 a barrel.

US crude stocks fell sharply last week as refineries increased output and imports declined, while gasoline stocks decreased and distillate inventories dropped, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

The 7.2 million-barrel decline in crude inventories in the week ended July 21 was well above the 2.6 million barrels forecast.

“This marks the fourth consecutive week that total hydrocarbon inventories have fallen during a time of year when they normally increase,” said PIRA Energy oil analyst Jenna Delaney.

US shale producers including Hess Corp, Anadarko Petroleum and Whiting Petroleum this week announced plans to cut spending this year as a result of low oil prices.

Optimism that the long-oversupplied market is moving towards balance was also supported by news earlier in the week that Saudi Arabia plans to limit its crude exports to 6.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in August, about 1 million bpd below its export levels a year earlier.

Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, fellow members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), have also promised export cuts.

“The narrowing of the global glut is still on track,” OCBC said.

But analysts say oil prices may have little room to head higher as recent gains could encourage more output, particularly from US shale producers with low costs.

“The market will likely be paying even more attention to drilling activity in the US in the coming weeks, particularly after suggestions from certain industry players that the rig count in the US is slowing,” ING said in a research note on Wednesday.

US fuel exports are on track to hit another record in 2017, making foreign fuel markets increasingly important for the future growth prospects and profit margins of US refiners.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Statoil said on Thursday it expected a 5% increase in output this year amid higher oil prices, but the company reduced its planned exploration spending.