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Update: Oil prices slip after smooth Saudi transition

[LONDON] Oil prices slipped on Monday after Saudi Arabia's new King Salman moved to assuage fears of an unstable transition and any policy change in the world's largest oil exporter.

March Brent crude was trading at US$48.55 per barrel by 1509 GMT, down 24 cents, above an early low of US$47.57.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for March delivery was at US$45.57 a barrel, down 2 cents. The WTI front month had earlier touched a low of US$44.35, just above the US$44.20 hit on Jan 13, which was its lowest level since April 2009.

Brent and US crude futures turned positive briefly after Abdullah al-Badri, secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), said he thought prices may have reached their bottom.

But it was not enough to keep prices above Friday's close for long.

"It was a bit of an overreaction from his comments," said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix in Zug, Switzerland. "The only voice that counts is from Saudi Arabia."

"To have a meaningful market impact we need to see some signs coming out of Saudi Arabia that it will change," he said.

The new Saudi king, Salman, was quick to retain veteran Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi on Friday, in a message aimed at calming a jittery market.

Saudi Arabia led Opec in a decision to keep oil production steady at 30 million barrels per day last November. This has added to a global supply glut that has more than halved prices since June.

Money managers cut their net long US crude futures and options positions in the week to Jan 20, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday.

Oil services firm Baker Hughes published data on Friday that showed the number of US oil rigs fell for a seventh straight week to 1,317, the fewest since January 2013.

Germany-based Commerzbank said output would remain high in the short term but production from US oil rigs would continue to dwindle in the coming weeks, eventually supporting prices.

"It is only a question of time before this is reflected in decreased oil production," Commerzbank analysts said in a note to clients on Monday. "In our opinion, this indicates that prices will recover in the second half of the year."

REUTERS