Crude Oil Price Steady as Gas, Diesel Stockpiles Soar

A gas pump is seen hanging from the ceiling at a petrol station in Seoul

Oil prices held firm on Friday, with Brent crude up by more than 10 percent from its December lows on the back of political tensions in OPEC-member Iran and a tightening USA market.

USO is up 5.5% over the past week while the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEArca: BNO), which tracks Brent crude oil futures, is higher by almost 9% over the same period.

WTI light sweet crude oil was up 15 cents at USD61.80 a barrel, the highest since 2014.

Despite relatively high USA crude oil production, curtailments in production by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and robust global demand supported crude oil price increases in 2017, EIA said.

Brent oil price rose above $68 for the first time since May 13, 2015. USA oil production C-OUT-T-EIA , driven largely by onshore tight shale oil fields, has risen by nearly 16 percent since mid-2016, to 9.75 million bpd at the end of a year ago.

Analysts said speculators widened their positions on the back of a firm trend overseas ahead of the inventory data and as ongoing anti-government protests in Iran raised the prospect of supply disruptions.

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Saudi Arabia's oil minister, who is the organisation's de facto leader, has reiterated that stocks are still around 150 million barrels too high and it would be premature to discuss an exit strategy or change of course.

Prices have risen as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russian Federation work to reduce global inventories through output reductions and amid concerns over the stability of the group's third-biggest producer, Iran.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude stocks fell by 7.4 million barrels in the last week of 2017, exceeding expectations, as refiners boosted activity to their highest rate since 2005.

Outside the OPEC-shale oil supply clash, the return of geopolitical risks to the oil market will be the major driver of potentially higher oil prices this year, analysts reckon. Strong demand growth, especially from China, has also been supporting crude. "You're seeing a little bit more of a bullish push-up in the price of oil", Mark Watkins, a Park City, Utah-based regional investment manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $142 billion in assets, said by telephone.

OPEC is committed to clearing the global oil gut. It's likely that the market will have fully rebalanced by mid-2018, fast-forwarding OPEC's exit from production cuts to the second half of the year, according to Goldman Sachs.

While there is a risk they may take profits after recent gains, potentially pressuring the market if funds sell out of positions, there are reasons to suspect they will not be easily dislodged. Analysts and traders surveyed by The Wall Street Journal on average expect that stockpiles declined by 4.7 million barrels in the week ended December 29.

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