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Global oil benchmarks diverge in the aftermath of Opec pact

Brent crude is being pared back by Riyadh's pledge to boost output, but shrinking stockpiles are supporting WTI

Seoul

THE world's two most important oil benchmarks are behaving very differently in the aftermath of Opec's meeting in Vienna.

Brent crude is being pared back by Saudi Arabia's pledge to boost output after an ambiguous Opec pact and contradictory statements from other nations spurred a price jump on Friday, while shrinking stockpiles are supporting West Texas Intermediate. The spread between the European and US markers narrowed more than 16 per cent Monday and has almost halved in under a week.

While the prospect of more Opec crude is weighing on Brent, Goldman Sachs Group Inc says even an aggressive output boost will lead to only a slim surplus that would leave the market with little remaining spare capacity. Stockpiles at the biggest US storage hub have slumped for five weeks with the start of the summer driving season when demand peaks. Those declines may accelerate as a Canadian oil-sands outage leads to a North American supply shortage, propping up WTI, the bank said. "The spread between WTI and Brent is shrinking as Opec's output increase is having a bigger impact on Brent than WTI," said Hong Sungki, a Seoul-based commodities trader at NH Investment & Securities Co. "Cushing stockpiles are quickly withdrawing as the US summer driving season boosts refiners' demand for crude, supporting WTI prices."

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In contrast, WTI crude for August delivery dropped only 17 cents to US$68.41 a barrel, after gaining earlier. The contract jumped 4.6 per cent to US$68.58 on Friday. Total volume traded was more than double the 100-day average.

The differing reaction narrowed Brent's premium to US$5.81 from more than US$10 last week.

Futures rose 1.8 per cent to 467.4 yuan a barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange in afternoon trading, after edging down 0.2 per cent on Friday.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih signalled a real supply gain approaching one million barrels a day after Opec adopted a pact aimed at lifting output. He was seeking to reassure the market after several cartel members said the actual increase will only reach 700,000 because some nations are incapable of pumping more.

The Opec deal, which was reached after a last-minute compromise with Iran, is a victory for Saudi Arabia and Russia that initially proposed an increase. Output curbs by the group and its allies since last year helped eliminate a global glut and boosted Brent to US$80 a barrel for the first time since 2014. They now have more room to respond to supply risks and moderate prices at a time when US sanctions threaten to disrupt Iranian and Venezuelan exports.

Iran said it doesn't believe buyers of its oil will get waivers from the US government that would allow them to continue purchasing cargoes after President Donald Trump's renewal of sanctions. That's a signal that exports from the Islamic Republic may fall much further, more quickly than expected.

Technically, Opec and its partners will strive to reach 100 per cent compliance with production quotas adopted about 18 months ago, according to a communique published after the meeting last week.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said his country can boost output by 170,000 to 200,000 barrels a day, and Mr Al-Falih floated a month-on-month range of 250,000 to 400,000 barrels a day increase. Meanwhile, every minister seemed to have his own interpretation of what the hike meant for the market. Iran saw less than 700,000 additional barrels a day and Iraq predicted it could be as much as 800,000.

Mr Al-Falih's assurance to keep the market in balance, backed by his Russian counterpart, came after Mr Trump slammed Opec for artificially inflating prices, as well as more conventional lobbying by major oil buyers. While the group has struck a deal, Iran and Venezuela criticised the Saudi position, saying the accord didn't allow any member to replace one another's market share.

Meanwhile, the biggest US shale region will have to shut wells within four months because there aren't enough pipelines to get the oil to customers, according to Scott Sheffield, the chairman of Pioneer Natural Resources

Money managers raised bullish ICE Brent crude oil bets by 2,506 net-long positions to 458,449, weekly ICE Futures Europe data on futures and options show.

Oil explorers reduced drilling in the US last week for the first time in almost three months, according to Baker Hughes. BLOOMBERG