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Oil wavers as OPEC pushes supply cut need, demand fears weigh

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03/14/2019 | 02:56pm EDT
The Hai Yang Shi You 981 oil platform operated by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is seen in the sea off China's Hainan province

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed on Thursday after hitting 2019 highs as OPEC stressed the need to extend its production cut program past June while lowering its forecast for crude demand.

Uncertainty over the progress of U.S.-China trade talks and global economic growth weighed on oil prices.

Brent crude hit a four-month peak of $68.14 per barrel before falling to $67.19 by 2:23 p.m. EST (1823 GMT), down 36 cents, from Wednesday's close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures edged up 29 cents to $58.55.

Oil rallied on Wednesday on U.S. government data showing a surprise fall in crude inventory and a lower-than-expected estimate of U.S. crude production growth.

In its monthly report released on Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut the forecast for demand for its crude this year and predicted strong growth in non-OPEC supply.

OPEC's bearish demand outlook was offset by its apparent resolve to extend crude output cuts, agreed to by its members and allied producers, which have helped oil prices rise more than 20 percent this year.

"That's probably a reflection of the price fluctuation we've seen in today's prices," said Phil Streible, senior commodities strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago.

Fresh concerns about the global economy weighed on oil prices.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States was doing well in trade talks with China, but that he could not say whether a final deal would be reached.

Bloomberg reported earlier that a meeting between the presidents of the United States and China to resolve a trade dispute had been delayed, briefly sending futures lower.

Data showing China's industrial output grew 5.3 percent in January and February, the slowest pace of expansion in 17 years, also limited gains, Flynn said.

In the U.S., a Commerce Department report showed sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell more than expected in January, suggesting housing market weakness early in the first quarter.

Supply disruptions out of OPEC members Venezuela and Iran helped support oil prices.

Amid political turmoil in Venezuela, two storage tanks exploded at a heavy-crude upgrading project in the east of the country on Wednesday, according to an oil industry source and a legislator.

The country's main oil terminal resumed shipments after a prolonged blackout.

Two sources told Reuters that the United States aims to curb Iran's crude exports by about 20 percent to below 1 million barrels per day from May, likely reining in waivers for Tehran's remaining customers.

(Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Henning Gloystein; Editing by James Dalgleish and Chizu Nomiyama)

By Laila Kearney

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