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Oil mixed as Saudi output rises, equities rebound


[NEW YORK] Oil was mixed on Friday as a Canadian supply outage supported US crude prices, while an increase in production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries's (Opec) biggest exporter Saudi Arabia pushed Brent lower.

US crude futures gained 86 US cents, or 1.2 per cent, to settle at US$73.80 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent slipped 28 US cents to settle at US$77.11 a barrel.

For the week, WTI futures lost about 0.5 per cent after hitting a 3 1/2 year high on Tuesday, while Brent lost about 3 per cent.

US crude was bullish after official data on Thursday showed inventories at Cushing, the delivery point for US crude futures, fell to their lowest in 3 1/2 years.

That came after an outage at a major Canadian oil sands facility cut regional supply. The outage at the 360,000 barrels per day (bpd) Syncrude facility in Canada has contributed to a sharp reduction in the discount for US crude versus Brent crude over the past month.

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The discount has halved to US$5.54 a barrel on Friday from US$11.57 in early June.

"We're continuing to see - and I expect the trend will continue - lower inventories in Cushing in July, resulting in a very tight light sweet crude market," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Associates.

"That has been exacerbated by the Canadian Syncrude outage...which has resulted in a scramble for supplies in the Midwest. I do expect that at least over the next few weeks, the Brent-WTI spread is going to narrow."

Brent was being pressured by expectations for higher Saudi and Russia production, which impacts Europe and Asia, where Brent is the benchmark, more than markets dominated by US crude prices.

Saudi Arabia told Opec that it increased production by almost 500,000 barrels per day last month.

Opec and its allies agreed earlier this month to a modest increase in output to dampen the oil price rally, which hit a 3 1/2 year high. The supply increase reversed some of the cuts that Opec and other major producers put in place in early 2017 to end several years of supply glut.

Saudi Arabia also said it would reduce the official selling price of its August barrels.

US markets also garnered support from a government employment report showing better-than-expected growth in jobs. That blunted the impact of an escalating US-China trade war.

"We're seeing a bounce to the upside thanks to spillover from a really good jobs number and strength in equity markets, as well as a draw in Cushing stocks," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.

The trade war has yet to have a direct impact on oil markets, but China has indicated it could place tariffs on US crude imports.

If that happens, "Chinese demand would then shift to other suppliers. Because the oil market is already in tight supply due to the numerous outages, this would drive international prices (Brent) further up," Commerzbank said in a note.

US producers continued to bring more rigs into oilfields already producing at record levels. The US rig count, an early indicator of future output, was up by five in the week to July 6, according to General Electric Co's Baker Hughes energy services firm.

That brings the total count to 863, up 100 from last year.


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