[TOKYO] Crude oil futures rose in early Asian trade on thin volumes after an influential forecaster predicted that a market rally was not far off and US Federal Reserve minutes suggested there was no hurry to raise rates.
The gains added to a surge in prices on Thursday, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, on track for a near 11 per cent gain this week, the biggest weekly rise since early 2009.
Brent was up 25 cents at US$53.30 a barrel at 0306 GMT. The contract rose US$1.72 to close at US$53.05 a barrel on Thursday.
US crude was 23 cents higher at US$49.66 a barrel, after climbing 3.4 per cent to close at US$49.43 a barrel.
US crude is heading for a gain of about 9 per cent this week, the biggest weekly increase since August. The contract rose to above US$50 on Thursday, the highest since July 22. "It is quite difficult to find support above US$50 on the current fundamentals," said Tetsu Emori, president of commodities investor, Emori Capital Management.
Opec is showing no sign of cutting output with lower prices and there is the prospect of additional Iranian supplies coming to the market following the July nuclear agreement with world powers, Emori said. "The market is relatively overbought in the short term and heading to the weekend no one is really willing to take any fresh positions," he said.
PIRA Energy Group, a closely watched forecaster that predicted the slump in oil prices a year ago, said on Thursday it expected crude prices to rise to US$70 per barrel by the end of 2016 and US$75 a barrel in 2017.
Also supporting prices was the release of the Fed minutes, which showed that policymakers are concerned that the global economic slowdown may affect the outlook for the US.
This led investors to further pare bets that the Fed is likely to raise rates later rather than sooner.
Gains in Chinese equities on Thursday, opening after a week long National Day holiday, added to the bullish tone, while Russia's military involvement in Syria has brought a geopolitical risk premium into the market.