Oil hits 2019 highs on OPEC cuts, US sanctions

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SINGAPORE (Feb 15): Brent crude oil prices hit 2019 highs above US$65 per barrel on Friday, spurred by US sanctions against Venezuela and Iran as well as OPEC-led supply cuts.

Brent rose as high as US$65.10, pushing past the US$65 mark for the first time this year, before edging back to US$64.97 a barrel by 0450 GMT. That was still 0.6% above the last close.

The international benchmark for oil prices is at a near 3-month high and set for a 4.6% gain for the week.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at US$54.70 per barrel, up 29 cents, or 0.6%, from their last settlement.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated suppliers including Russia are withholding supply in order to tighten the market and prop up prices.

The producer group known as OPEC+ has agreed to cut crude output by a joint 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd). Top exporter Saudi Arabia said it would cut even more in March than the deal called for.

Russia has cut its oil production by 80,000-90,000 barrels per day from its level in October, Moscow's reference level for its cuts, the country's energy minister said.

"Brent should average US$70 per barrel in 2019, helped by voluntary (Saudi, Kuwait, UAE) and involuntary (Venezuela, Iran) declines in OPEC supply," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.

It also expects "a 2.5 million barrels per day drop in OPEC supply from 4Q18 into 4Q19."

Commodity investment firm Goehring & Rozencwajg (G&R) said that oil production from non-OPEC producers like Brazil, Mexico or the North Sea was also struggling, further tightening the market.

"The North Sea, Mexico and Brazil all disappointed and we expect this to continue going forward," G&R said in a note published on Thursday.

Trade data in Refinitiv showed that combined crude oil shipments out of the North Sea, Mexico and Brazil were at 4.2 million bpd in January, down from 4.4 million bpd in December.

Standing against these declines is soaring US crude production, which rose by more than 2 million bpd last year, to 11.9 million bpd, making America the world's biggest oil producer.

Most analysts expect US output to rise past 12 million bpd soon, and perhaps even hit 13 million bpd by the end of the year.

Rising US shale oil supply, increasing spare capacity within OPEC and stagnating fuel consumption meant the medium-term oil price outlook was lower, BoAML said.

"We see growing downside risks to medium-term oil prices on rising US supply and slower consumption," the US bank said. It expected Brent to range between US$50 and US$70 per barrel in the coming five years.