Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — Oil slipped on Friday, pressured by growing global stocks, while the expectation that an oil output cut by producers might eventually balance the market helped to underpin prices.

Brent crude futures were trading at $55.57 a barrel at 9.45am GMT, 8c below their last close. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 4c at $53.32 a barrel.

Both appeared on track for losses on the week, although prices had moved higher earlier in the session in response to news that producer group Opec could extend an output cut aimed at reining in a global supply overhang.

Opec and other producers, including Russia, plan to cut output by almost 1.8-million barrels a day during the first half of 2017, and estimates suggest compliance by Opec is around 90%.

The cuts are aimed at curbing oversupply that has dogged markets since 2014.

But inventories and supply remain high, especially in the US.

"You’ve got bullishness from the Opec cuts, but the bearishness of the inventory report," Hamza Khan, head of commodities strategy at ING, said. "The question is, which of these is going to give first?"

Brent and WTI have traded within a $5 a barrel price range this year, in what has become the longest and most range-bound period since a price slump began in mid-2014.

In the US, rising output has helped push up crude and fuel stocks to record highs.

In Asia, oil flows into the region remain as high as they were before the production cuts, Thomson Reuters data show, as exporters fight for market share.

And there are also signs of faltering demand growth in core markets, China and India.

In India, fuel demand growth fell in January, while in China sagging car sales and soaring petrol and diesel exports also point to a slowdown in growth.

That leaves Europe, where Opec has significantly cut its sales. But Thomson Reuters data show rising North Sea oil exports to Asia, indicating there is no real supply shortage in the region.

Despite the supply glut, analysts expect oil markets to tighten in the longer term.

"In the fourth quarter of 2018, global oil demand will most likely surpass 100-million barrels a day," AB Bernstein said on Friday in a note to clients.

"If oil prices stay around $60 a barrel and GDP growth over 3% per annum, then oil demand growth will be stronger over the next five years, than the previous decade. What we are witnessing is a rather surprising renaissance of oil consumption," it said.


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