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Oil markets steady as strong demand is met by ample supplies

[SINGAPORE] Oil prices were steady early on Monday, supported by strong demand and falling inventories, but still under pressure from high output.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at US$52.08 per barrel at 0048 GMT, down two cents from their last close.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at US$48.85 a barrel, up three cents.

ANZ bank said prices were being supported by a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that crude oil stockpiles were now below 2016 levels.

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Despite this, the IEA said that stocks remained 219 million barrels above a five-year average - a level that producer club Opec is targeting with its output cuts.

The agency also raised its 2017 demand growth forecast to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) from 1.4 million bpd in its previous monthly report and said it expected demand to expand by a further 1.4 million bpd next year.

Despite the strong demand, markets remain well supplied thanks to strong output.

Shale production in the largest US oilfield should rise by as much as 300,000 bpd by December, according to industry forecasts.

Oil production from the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico is closely watched because its low costs and rapid growth have pressured efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to drain a global crude supply glut.

US energy companies added oil rigs for a second time in the last three weeks, extending a 15-month drilling recovery, but the pace of additions has slowed in recent months as firms cut spending plans in reaction to declining crude prices.

Drillers added three rigs looking for new oil in the week to August 11 bringing the total count up to 768, the most since April 2015, General Electric Co's Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.