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Oil closes near US$48 as Opec still negotiating Iran, Iraq cuts

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Oil closed near US$48 a barrel in New York after an Opec committee failed to agree on Iranian and Iraqi production levels.

[NEW YORK] Oil closed near US$48 a barrel in New York after an Opec committee failed to agree on Iranian and Iraqi production levels.

Futures ended the session little changed after rising and falling about 2 per cent. The talks in Vienna Tuesday haven't resolved the question of whether the group's second and third-largest members will participate in any production cuts, and the matter will be put off until the meeting of ministers on Nov. 30, according to two delegates.

While Libya's Opec governor Mohamed Oun said the meeting ended with a consensus that will be presented to ministers, he didn't comment on Iran and Iraq's role.

The lack of agreement, a week before ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and representatives gather in Vienna, leaves open the possibility the group could fail to implement the curbs first outlined in late September. Opec's plan to trim output for the first time in eight years is complicated by Iran's determination to boost volumes, a revival of production in Nigeria and Libya, and Iraq's request for an exemption.

Market voices on:

"There are a lot of ramblings coming from Opec," said Tim Pickering, founder and chief investment officer of Auspice Capital Advisors Ltd in Calgary. "I'm usually an optimist, but not when it comes to Opec coming to agreement. We have to pay close attention to the various statements because they aren't all in agreement."

West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 21 US cents, or 0.4 per cent, to close at US$48.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Total volume traded was about 36 per cent above the 100-day average at 2:40pm.

Brent for January settlement rose 22 US cents to US$49.12 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract touched US$49.96, the highest level since Oct 28. The global benchmark closed at a US$1.09 premium to WTI.

December cash WTI at Cushing, Oklahoma, was US$1.40 below January futures, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after the December futures expired Monday at a 75-US cent discount. January's discount to February widened 11 US cents to 90 US cents a barrel, the widest gap between the first two contracts since June.

The widening contango signals near-term supply at the delivery point for the US benchmark crude is ample. The market structure can encourage further inventory gains because it allows investors to buy crude cheaply, store it in tanks and lock in profit for later sales using derivatives contracts.

"Widening contango is telling us that this is a very oversupplied market," said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc in New York. "This increases the pressure on Opec to come up with a deal.

There's trouble on the horizon for Opec if they don't succeed." Opec officials meeting in Algiers on Sept 28 proposed limiting output to a collective 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day. The 14-member group pumped 33.8 million barrels a day in October, according to the International Energy Agency. The IEA has warned that without production cuts, oil prices are likely to fall in 2017.

Saudi Arabia led Opec in the adopting a pump as much as possible strategy in November 2014. The policy was aimed at defending market share and putting pressure on high-cost producers elsewhere, particularly surging output from US shale formations and Canada's tar sands.

"It's hard to believe that Saudi Arabia would agree to any plan where Iran doesn't have to cut production and can take their market share," said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group Inc, a consulting company in Villanova, Pennsylvania. "The people most anxious for an Opec production cut are in Fort McMurray, the Bakken and the Eagle Ford. If Opec succeeds in boosting prices they will add 1 million barrels in a relatively short time."

Fort McMurray is the centre of Alberta's oil-sands region in Canada, while the Bakken and Eagle Ford are two US shale regions that have seen production declines.

In the US, government data Wednesday is forecast to show crude inventories rose by 1 million barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey. Stockpiles climbed by 22.1 million in the past three reports from the Energy Information Administration. The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute is scheduled to release its weekly data Tuesday.

The chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is trying to push ahead with controversial rules clamping down on traders' ability to speculate in oil and other commodities before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, according to people familiar with the matter.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc said investors should bet on higher commodity prices in the next year, the first time the bank has recommended an overweight position for the asset class in more than four years.