Oil steadies, with competing forces in balance
Singapore — Oil prices were stable on Friday, held back by a strengthening dollar but supported by China’s relentless thirst for crude amid the Opec-led supply cuts that have already tightened the market this year.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $56.68 a barrel at 4.07am GMT, virtually unchanged from their last settlement at $56.69.
Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were also little changed, at $62.21 a barrel, up just 1c.
Traders said a stronger dollar, which has gained 0.8% this month against a basket of other leading currencies, was weighing on prices.
A rising greenback attracts financial traders who switch investments between commodity futures and foreign exchange.
A strong dollar is also seen by many as a brake on crude prices, as it makes dollar-denominated oil purchases more expensive in countries that use other currencies.
"A strong dollar could act as a headwind to commodities," Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML) said in its 2018 outlook.
Despite this, China’s booming oil demand means it will this year overtake the US as the world’s biggest crude importer.
China’s crude oil imports rose to 37.04-million tonnes in November, or 9.01-million barrels a day, the second highest on record, Chinese customs data showed on Friday.
"China’s crude oil imports will continue to rise over the coming years, as output declines from several of its giant onshore fields…. This will inevitably see China become more reliant on crude oil imports over our forecast period, with import dependency set to increase from a record 68.0% in 2017 to nearly 80% by 2021," BMI Research said.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch, meanwhile, said robust global demand and tight supplies should buoy Brent crude oil to $70 a barrel by mid-2018.
On the supply side, oil prices have been receiving support from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and a group of non-Opec producers, most importantly Russia, which has been withholding supplies to tighten the market.
Largely because of these voluntary production cuts, oil prices rose sharply between June and October, with Brent gaining about 40% in value.
Threatening to undermine Opec’s goal to tighten markets is US oil production, which has risen by more than 15% since mid-2016 to 9.7-million barrels a day, the highest level since the early 1970s and close to the output of top producers Russia and Saudi Arabia.