Even a drop in prices approaching 1 percent on Thursday wasn't enough to prevent crude from holding onto near 2019 highs, and with West Texas Intermediate skirting $60 per barrel and Brent well beyond that figure, critics think the winning streak will continue despite a host of geopolitical hurdles lying in wait.
"At 439.5 million barrels, US crude oil inventories are about 2 percent below the five year average for this time of year", the EIA said. For the week ended March 15, USA crude oil refinery inputs averaged 16.2 million barrels per day, which was 178,000 barrels per day higher than the previous week, the EIA said in a report on Wednesday.
"The price action suggests investor uncertainty over domestic and global economic growth on future demand".
Economic growth has slowed across Asia, Europe and North America, potentially denting fuel consumption.
The U.S. aims to cut Iran's crude exports by roughly 20% to below 1 Mmbpd from May by requiring importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid U.S. sanctions.
Canadian investment bank RBC Capital Markets said oil was still below the fiscal breakeven level in a number of OPEC nations, meaning that many manufacturers have an interest in further propping up the market.
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We believe that OPEC is likely to extend the deal for the duration of 2019 when they next assemble in Vienna in June, RBC said.
However, the persistent selling bias hitting the greenback plus another drop of USA crude supplies as reported by the EIA on Wednesday and the ongoing OPEC+ output cut deal continue to sustain the underlying bullish view in the commodity.
EIA also reported an increase in gasoline production, averaging 9.9 million barrels per day.
While tracking Iran's oil exports has become an increasingly hard task after the USA sanctions returned in early November, some of the key Iranian oil customers that received US waivers resumed Iranian oil purchases in 2019 or increased imports to their respective ceiling allowed under the waivers, after an initial "wait-and-see mode" for November and December purchases amid uncertainties who is getting waivers.
Prices for both benchmark had climbed by more than 1% Wednesday after US government data showed an unexpectedly large fall in domestic crude inventories.
Venezuelan crude oil production has also dwindled amid USA sanctions and an internal political and economic crisis, plunging from a high of more than 3 million bpd at the start of the century to not much more than 1 million bpd now.
The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday said US crude inventories fell a sharper-than-expected 9.6 million barrels last week, while supplies of gasoline dropped 4.6 million barrels and distillates declined by 4.1 million barrels. Part of the drawdown in United States inventories was due to surging exports, which stood at a four-week average of 3 million bpd, double the amount this time a year ago, the EIA said.