[SINGAPORE] Brent crude held below US$60 a barrel near a 5-1/2-year low on Friday as a global oversupply of oil showed little sign of receding, even as companies cut upstream investments next year.
Oil prices were on track for a fourth straight week of declines after Opec members last month decided against cutting production in response to a drop of nearly 50 per cent in prices since late June.
Brent crude for February delivery was up 4 cents at US$59.31 a barrel by 0341 GMT. The contract had settled down US$1.91 on Thursday, after trading as high as US$63.70 a barrel in a volatile session. "Following the long and steep decline in oil prices, we have seen some buying interest in recent days," said Ken Hasegawa, commodity sales manager of Newedge Japan. "But there is still a lot of selling pressure." Oil companies have been announcing cuts in exploration and capital spending as crude's price decline makes projects uneconomical. "But for now there is no significant halt in production and no change to the supply and demand situation," said Hasegawa."So oil prices can still go lower." Besides the US$9 billion in spending cuts already announced, energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie forecasts that, in order to maintain their debt levels, oil companies will need to reduce spending next year by another US$170 billion, or 37 per cent, from 2014 if Brent remains around its current level.
At US$60 a barrel, only three of the top 40 international oil companies generate sufficient free cash flow to cover spending, including distributions to shareholders, Wood Mackenzie said.
US crude for January delivery, which expires after Friday's settlement, was up 31 cents at US$54.42, after rising to as high as US$55.50 in earlier trading.
Saudi Arabia's powerful oil minister said on Thursday Opec could not cut output without the support of other big producers and attempts to get them on board had not worked.
Ali al-Naimi said it was impossible for Opec to cut alone to reverse the oil price slump, which he called temporary, when others were pumping more, saying that could lead to loss of market share, and with no guarantee of supporting prices.