Oil Edges Slightly Higher as Investors Weigh Pressures

By Christopher Alessi and Alison Sider Features Dow Jones Newswires

Oil prices edged slightly higher Monday, as investors weighed whether there is more room for crude prices to fall.

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U.S. crude futures recently rose 21 cents, or 0.47%, to $44.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark, rose 30 cents, or 0.63%, to $47.67 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

The move higher came as Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, said that the oil market is on pace to balance by the fourth quarter, even with higher production from the U.S., Nigeria and Libya.

Figures indicating that Saudi Arabia's exports are declining "are a reminder that the Saudis are continuing to work at it. They're doing everything they can to reduce the supply glut," said John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital. "Unfortunately, they find themselves at it almost alone."

Even though major producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia have cut output since January, fading faith in their agreement's effectiveness has sent prices down 17% this year, reversing the gains seen when they initially agreed to reduce output in late 2016.

"The decline in oil inventories has been modest this year. As a result, investors have curbed their oil exposure in the futures market," Giovanni Staunovo, an energy analyst at UBS, wrote in a note Monday.

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U.S. producers have ramped up more quickly than most were anticipating, undermining some of OPEC's efforts. U.S. data Friday showed the U.S. oil rig count increased for a 22nd consecutive week, with operators adding another six oil rigs last week.

Market participants were also concerned about the expected increase in Libyan and Nigerian oil output. Recent data suggests the two countries could add up to 250,000 barrels a day to the OPEC's June output level, according to PVM Oil.

"Apart from U.S. shale [gas] these two member countries are also causinga headache or even migraine for OPEC," PVM analysts wrote in a note Monday morning.

The bearish view is likely to remain the dominant sentiment in the short term. Recent options contracts show traders are hedging for the potential of oil falling below $41 a barrel in the months ahead, said Chris Kettenmann, chief energy strategist at New York-based Macro Risk Advisors.

"It's a race to the bottom," he noted, adding that investors may be "betting on further downside."

Virendra Chauhan, an oil analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects, agreed: "Nothing fundamentally is going to push oil prices higher in the near term," he said.

Mr. Chauhan added he was looking ahead to Chinese trade data later this week. If it shows a continuing weakening of the Chinese economy, it could also weigh on oil prices.

But, at current levels, some say a floor may be on the horizon. Questions about U.S. shale's "ability to keep profitable are being asked, " said Stuart Ive, a client manager at OM Financial. Meanwhile, firms such as Wood Mackenzie have said a limited amount of drilling equipment amid rising demand will likely slow down America's oil-drilling expansion.

At the same time, Helima Croft, the head of commodities strategy at RBC Capital Markets, questioned the sustainability of recently production gains in Libya and Nigeria. Ms. Croft said that political instability in those countries make them highly susceptible to insurgent uprisings.

Gasoline futures rose 1.41 cents, or 0.97%, to $1.4689 a gallon. Diesel futures rose 0.91 cent, or 0.64%, to $1.4361 a gallon.

Jenny W. Hsu and Summer Said contributed to this article

Write to Christopher Alessi at christopher.alessi@wsj.com and Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 19, 2017 11:31 ET (15:31 GMT)