Oil posts strongest year opening since 2014; Iran unrest pushes up crude

In this Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 file photo a university student attends a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Updated 02 January 2018
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Oil posts strongest year opening since 2014; Iran unrest pushes up crude

SINGAPORE: Oil prices posted their strongest opening to a year since 2014 on Tuesday, with crude rising to mid-2015 highs amid large anti-government rallies in Iran and ongoing supply cuts led by OPEC and Russia.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $60.61 a barrel at 0423 GMT, up 19 cents, or 0.3 percent, after hitting $60.73 earlier in the day, ther highest since June 2015.
Brent crude futures, the international benchmark, were at $67.12 a barrel, up 25 cents, or 0.4 percent, after hitting a May 2015 high of $67.27 a barrel earlier in the day.
It was the first time since January 2014 that the two crude oil benchmarks opened the year above $60 per barrel.
“Growing unrest in Iran set the table for a bullish start to 2018,” the US-based Schork Report said in a note to clients on Tuesday.
Anti-government protesters demonstrated in Iran on Sunday in defiance of a warning by authorities of a crackdown, extending for a fourth day one of the most audacious challenges to the clerical leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009.
Even without the unrest in Iran, which is a major oil exporter, market sentiment was bullish.
“Falling inventories globally and strong economic growth offset the restart of the Forties pipeline and the resumption of production following a pipeline outage in Libya,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore.
The 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity Forties pipeline system in the North Sea returned to full operations on Dec. 30 after an unplanned shutdown.
Oil markets have been supported by a year of production cuts led by the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia. The cuts started in January 2017 and are scheduled to cover all of 2018.
US commercial crude oil inventories have fallen by almost 20 percent from their historic highs last March, to 431.9 million barrels.
Strong demand growth, especially from China, has also been supporting crude.
“We would not be surprised to see a further (oil price) rise,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.
Only rising US production, which is on the verge of breaking through 10 million bpd, is somewhat hampering the outlook into 2018.
“The higher prices are expected to stoke US shale output,” O’Loughlin said.
US oil production has risen by almost 16 percent since mid-2016, to 9.75 million bpd at the end of last year.
However, consultancy Rystad Energy said “US crude oil production capacity has reached 10 million barrels per day.”


OPEC rift deepens as Iran walks out of key meeting in Vienna

Updated 21 June 2018
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OPEC rift deepens as Iran walks out of key meeting in Vienna

VIENNA: Iran's oil minister walked out of a key meeting with OPEC peers on Thursday, as a rift deepened with regional rival Saudi over its push to ramp up the cartel's oil output.
"I do not think we can reach an agreement," Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told reporters at his Vienna hotel after storming out of talks with a group of ministers on the eve of a crucial OPEC meet.
The talks were meant to lay the groundwork for Friday's gathering of the 14-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), when the cartel will discuss easing a supply-cut deal with 10 partner countries that has cleared a global oil supply glut and pushed crude prices to multi-year highs.
The output curbs have been in place since January 2017 but Saudi Arabia, backed by non-member Russia, is now pushing to raise production again in order to meet growing demand in the second half of 2018.
But the proposal has run into resistance from Iran, Iraq and Venezuela, who would struggle to immediately raise output and fear losing market share and revenues if other countries open the spigots.
Iran is particularly vocal about its objections as it braces for the impact of fresh US sanctions on its oil exports after President Donald Trump quit the international nuclear agreement.
But Riyadh, which cheered Washington's exit from the nuclear pact, is under pressure from Trump to boost output in order to lower oil prices ahead of November's midterm elections.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih had earlier signalled a compromise could be in the works.
He acknowledged that a big production hike might be "politically unacceptable" to some OPEC countries and said it was important to be "sensitive" to those concerns.
The 24 nations in the pact, known as OPEC+, initially agreed to trim production by 1.8 million barrels a day but they have actually been keeping more than two million bpd off the market.
Observers believe a face-saving deal could be brokered if members simply stopped over-complying with the current pact, and agreed to stick to the original reduction quotas -- which would bring several hundred thousand more barrels to the market each day.
But that is easier said than done since much of the shortfall has come from Venezuela, where an economic crisis has savaged the nation's petroleum production.
Output has also plummeted in Libya, where fighting between rival factions has damaged key oil infrastructure.