Oil Caps Biggest Weekly Gain Since August Amid Producer Talks

Iran’s Impact on Oil Prices – Will It Fall Further?
  • Russia, Saudi Arabia said to discuss March meeting site
  • WTI crude fell late Friday as dollar advanced against peers

Oil capped the biggest weekly gain since August amid signs of strengthening U.S. fuel demand and speculation that some producers will complete an accord to freeze output.

Crude rose 11 percent for the week after data on Feb. 24 showed U.S. gasoline demand rose as supplies fell. Producers are deciding where to meet in March for discussions on the output freeze provisionally agreed between Saudi Arabia and Russia last week, Venezuelan Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said on the TeleSur television network. Prices dropped in late trading Friday as the dollar rose, curbing investor appetite for commodities priced in the U.S. currency.

"There are a lot of nervous shorts out there and they are reacting to these comments about an OPEC meeting with Russia," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy. "It’s a repetition of what we have been hearing, but this talk continues to be rewarded by the market."

Crude is still down about 11 percent this year on concern a worldwide surplus will be prolonged because of rising U.S. stockpiles, which have swelled to the highest level in more than eight decades. Iran has pledged to increase shipments by as much as 1 million barrels a day after sanctions were lifted last month, and officials there dismissed the prospect of joining the output freeze.

West Texas Intermediate for April delivery slipped 29 cents to settle at $32.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices touched $34.69 earlier, the highest level since Jan. 28. Total volume traded was 23 percent above the 100-day averageat 3:03 p.m.

Rising Demand

Brent for April settlement slipped 19 cents to $35.10 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices rose 6.3 percent for the week. The European benchmark crude closed at a $2.32 premium to WTI, the most since Dec. 10.

"We’ve attracted a lot of length into the market," said Gene McGillian, a senior analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. "I don’t see prices moving above $35 as long as we have more than 500 million barrels of crude in storage here, U.S. production remains above 9 million barrels a day, no producers are cutting back and Iran is intent on reaching pre-sanctions levels."

Gasoline demand climbed as U.S. pump prices lingered near a seven-year low. Consumption advanced 1.8 percent to 9.06 million barrels a day through Feb. 19, averaged over four weeks, according to Energy Information Administration data. Consumption was up 5.2 percent from the same period last year.

Crude production fell by 33,000 barrels a day to 9.1 million last week, the lowest since October, according to EIA data. Rigs targeting oil in the nation’s fields fell to 400 this week, the lowest since December 2009, Baker Hughes Inc. said on its website.

"We’re in the midst of a downturn in production," said Rob Haworth, a senior investment strategist in Seattle at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $128 billion of assets. "We’re heading in the right direction and production should be down substantially more a couple months out."

Bearish Factors

Exxon Mobil Corp. may lose its top-notch credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service as the oil-market collapse imperils cash flow needed to cover payments to shareholders and investment in new discoveries. Oil services provider Halliburton Co. announced it would cut another 5,000 staff, or 8 percent of its remaining global workforce, to survive the downturn. 

The supply cap agreed with Saudi Arabia will need to be in place for a minimum of 12 months to support prices, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Thursday. Iran, seeking to boost exports after sanctions were lifted, said the deal is “ridiculous,” while Iraq said a pact hinges on unified support.

Positions on the plan to freeze output at January levels:

  • Proposal puts “unrealistic demands” on Iran, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said Tuesday, according to the ministry’s news agency Shana.
  • High-cost producers should bear the burden of reducing the current surplus and Saudi Arabia won’t cut production because it doesn’t trust other countries to join, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said Tuesday.
  • Iraq is ready to cooperate on the output cap, Falah Al-Amri, chairman of Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization, said at a conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.