Oil Stems Losses in Volatile Trading -- 4th Update

By Sarah McFarlane and Jenny W. Hsu Features Dow Jones Newswires

Crude futures posted a small rebound on Friday, recovering from a sudden 3% fall in Asian trade and following a week of steep losses globally as investors continue to worry about brimming crude inventories.

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Even with Friday's rebound, prices have tumbled around 5% this week, putting oil at its lowest levels since late November, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other big oil producers agreed to cut output for six months. Most of the losses came after data on Wednesday showed a smaller-than-expected fall in U.S. oil inventories and rising production.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose 0.3% to $48.52 a barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were trading up 0.04% at $45.53 a barrel.

The swift decline in Asia followed an overnight drop of 5% in New York.

Goldman Sachs put the dramatic fall down to, in part, follow-through on falls in other commodities including copper and iron ore this week, as concerns over China's economic growth weighed.

Analysts said that OPEC would look beyond weekly gyrations when it meets on May 25 to decide whether it will extend its production cuts.

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"OPEC have a longer time frame in mind, the whole point of their production curtailing was to do with removing this supply overhang, until evidence of that comes through then the whole point of the production cut hasn't been realized," said Emily Ashford, director of energy research at Standard Chartered.

The OPEC-led production cuts haven't made as big a dent in global inventories as intended. Expectations that production caps will be extended this month also haven't offered much support to prices.

Analysts had expected the cuts to prompt U.S. shale producers to pump more crude, but the rebound in output has surpassed expectations. U.S. production averaged 9.3 million barrels a day last week, its highest since August 2015.

"OPEC's failure to raise oil prices is fundamentally linked to their failure to bring down petroleum inventories," said analysts at brokerage Bernstein in a note.

The cartel aims to reduce global stockpiles to their five-year average, a goal that is only attainable if the cuts continue, industry insiders say. As such, most believe an extension is a foregone conclusion. The pressing question is for how long and who is on board.

Some analysts argue that those cuts will start showing in the price.

Bernstein said investors should be patient because the effects of the cuts will soon materialize. Already, there are signs that stockpiles in developed economies declined in April. Meanwhile, a significant drop in oil exports from OPEC members should also "result in meaningful inventory drawdowns over the coming months," the firm added.

The current rate of cuts, said Citi Futures analyst Tim Evans, is sufficient to result in demand outstripping global output by 1 million barrels a day in the second half of 2017 as seasonal demand picks up.

Nymex reformulated gasoline blendstock--the benchmark gasoline contract--rose 0.1% to $1.48 a gallon. ICE gasoil changed hands at $430.25 a metric ton, up $2.50 from the previous settlement.

Write to Sarah McFarlane at sarah.mcfarlane@wsj.com and Jenny W. Hsu at jenny.hsu@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 05, 2017 07:10 ET (11:10 GMT)