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Brent oil holds above US$60 on expected output cut extension
[NEW YORK] Brent oil held above US$60 a barrel on Monday, near its highest since mid-2015, on expectations Opec-led production cuts would be extended beyond March although rising Iraqi exports put a lid on prices.
Brent crude futures were up 10 cents or 0.2 per cent to US$60.54 per barrel at 1.39pm EDT (1739 GMT), close to its highest level since July 2015.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were 14 cents or 0.26 per cent higher at US$54.04 a barrel.
"The market has rallied pretty significantly and I think it's predicated on the fact that the Saudis and Russians are continuing the cut agreement," said Gene McGillian, manager of research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus Russia and nine other producers agreed to cut 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) from January 2016 to clear a supply glut.
The pact, already renewed once, now runs to March 2018, but Saudi Arabia and Russia, who are leading the effort, have voiced support for a further extension.
Opec Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said Russian-Saudi backing for an extension cleared the fog before the group's meeting in Vienna on Nov. 30.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman repeated the kingdom's support for extending the deal at the weekend.
Monday's rally has pushed the Brent's December 2017 contract to a premium of US$2.60 a barrel over the December 2018 contract.
This structure, known as backwardation, was at the top of Opec's "to do" list, along with targeting record-high global inventories. Such a premium gives holders of physical oil an incentive to sell their stored barrels for a higher price.
"A lot of the investment firms are raising their price targets so there's a bit of a change in sentiment," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
JP Morgan raised its 2018 Brent and WTI forecasts by US$11 and US$11.40 to US$58 and US$54.63 per barrel, respectively.
The bank said the revision reflects Opec and non-Opec cuts and higher than expected demand growth tightening the oil market.
However, traders said a 900,000 bpd export capacity increase from Iraq's southern ports to 4.6 million bpd had prevented Brent rising further.
Iraq has increased exports from its southern oilfields to 3.45 million bpd to make up for a shortfall from the northern Kirkuk fields, Basra Oil Company Director General Ihsan Abdul Jabbar said.
Also keeping a lid on prices, US production C-OUT-T-EIA is up almost 13 per cent since mid-2016, resulting in a steep WTI discount of US$6.50 per barrel against Brent CL-LCO1=R, increasing the attractiveness of US crude exports.