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Oil holds gains above US$58 as US drillers pause rig expansion

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Oil held gains above US$58 a barrel as trading resumed following the Christmas holiday and after US explorers refrained from adding rigs for a second week.

[SEOUL] Oil held gains above US$58 a barrel as trading resumed following the Christmas holiday and after US explorers refrained from adding rigs for a second week.

Futures were little changed in New York after gaining 2 per cent last week. The number of US rigs targeting oil remained unchanged at 747, Baker Hughes data showed on Friday. A repair of the North Sea's Forties Pipeline System is complete and pressure testing has started, operator Ineos Group said on Monday. The halt of the line earlier this month sent prices surging.

Oil is heading for a second yearly advance as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies including Russia prolong supply curbs through the end of 2018. Iraq Oil Minister Jabbar Al-Luaibi said on Monday that he's optimistic prices will gain next year with global stockpiles falling and demand rising in China and India.

"It's a bit too early to say whether US rigs will continue to decline as we can't ignore the fact that it's winter and some seasonal factors could be stalling drilling activity," said Will Yun, a commodities analyst at Hyundai Futures Corp. "The shutdown of the Forties pipeline has kept prices higher and it will support oil's bull run until at least the end of this year."

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West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery was at US$58.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up seven US cents, at 2.23pm in Seoul. Total volume traded was about 53 per cent below the 100-day average. The contract on Friday added 11 US cents, or 0.2 per cent, to US$58.47.

Brent for February settlement added two US cents to US$65.27 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices gained 35 US cents, or 0.5 per cent, to US$65.25 on Friday. The global benchmark crude traded at a premium of US$6.73 to WTI.

Despite a rally in crude prices, this year's drilling ramp-up has slowed since peaking in August as investors in the oil industry are pushing for returns over growth, a large backlog of drilled wells still needs to be fracked and technology increasingly allows producers to tap more from each hole.

Oil-market news: Russia is keeping this year's oil production at its 2016 level of about 10.98 million barrels a day as it complies with the Opec deal to reduce output, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Rossiya 24 TV.

National Iranian Oil Co may soon update its estimate of the country's oil reserves after about 30 studies by foreign oil companies found higher reserves and production capacity than previously estimated, the Oil Ministry's news service Shana reported, citing Gholamreza Manouchehri, head of NIOC's Development Engineering Department.

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