Oil prices hit a two-month high on Monday, lifted by a tightening U.S. crude market and the threat of sanctions against OPEC-member Venezuela.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures briefly jumped over $50 per barrel on Monday and were at $49.97 per barrel at 0654 GMT, still up 25 cents, or 0.5 percent from their last close. That means that virtually the entire WTI curve has moved over $50 per barrel.
Brent crude futures were at $52.85 per barrel, up 33 cents or 0.6 percent. Prices hit $52.90 per barrel earlier in the day, their highest since May 25.
The price rises put both crude benchmarks on track for a sixth consecutive session of gains.
Prices have risen around 10 percent since the last meeting of leading members by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers, including Russia, when the group discussed potential measures to further tighten oil markets.
“U.S. inventories are showing massive drawdowns, Saudi Arabia seems intent on playing its role as the world’s swing producer (and) impending sanctions on Venezuela by the U.S. will almost certainly be oil price-supportive,” said Jeffrey Halley, analyst at futures brokerage OANDA.
The United States is considering imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s vital oil sector in response to Sunday’s election of a constitutional super-body that Washington has denounced as a “sham” vote.
But traders said the biggest price supporter was currently a tightening U.S. oil market.
“Strong increases in the price of oil … (were) fueled in large part by the substantial drawdowns in U.S. inventories over the past several weeks,” said William O’Loughlin, analyst at Rivkin Securities.
U.S. crude inventories have fallen by 10 percent from their March peaks to 483.4 million barrels.
In production, U.S. output dipped by 0.2 percent to 9.41 million barrels per day (bpd) in the week to July 21, after rising by more than 10 percent since mid-2016.
Drilling for new U.S. production is also slowing, with just 10 rigs added in July, the fewest since May 2016.
The tighter market was also visible in the price curve, which shows backwardation in the front end.
Backwardation is a market condition in which prices for immediate delivery of a product are higher than those later on.
Brent prices for delivery in September are currently around 35 cents above those for October.
Despite the signs of a tighter market in the United States, supplies in China remain plentiful.
China’s June crude inventories rose to the highest level since September 2016, marking the third month of gain, data from the official Xinhua News Agency showed.
Crude stocks rose 4 percent to 30.57 million tonnes (around 224 million barrels), while total oil products stockpiles inched up to 18.1 million tonnes.
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