Crude Prices Hit Three-Year Highs On Supply Concerns

By Stephanie Yang and Christopher Alessi Features Dow Jones Newswires

Oil prices rose to a three-year high on Wednesday as ongoing antigovernment protests in Iran and a blast of cold weather raised concerns about potential supply disruptions.

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Light, sweet crude for February delivery gained $1.26, or 2.1%, to $61.63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settle value since December 2014. Brent, the global benchmark, advanced $1.27, or 1.9%, to $67.84 a barrel.

Antigovernment demonstrators have taken to the streets in cities across Iran over the past week to voice anger over the country's economic woes. The protests, which have left more than 20 people dead, have reignited a geopolitical risk premium in global oil markets amid concerns the civil unrest could result in crude supply disruptions out of the Islamic Republic.

While the protests have yet to affect oil production, analysts cautioned the situation could change if the U.S. were to impose fresh sanctions on the Iranian regime or dismantle the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program.

"This justifies a certain risk premium on the oil price, though this should already be more than sufficiently reflected in the current price level," the Commerzbank analysts wrote in a note Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a major winter storm this week helped support prices for crude and products, on worries that freezing temperatures could affect refinery infrastructure and lead to a spike in demand for materials such as diesel and heating oil.

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"Everybody's happy to be owning" crude, said Donald Morton, senior vice president at Herbert J. Sims & Co., who oversees an energy trading desk. "There's nothing to stop it at the moment."

Traders are also looking to government data to be released Thursday, detailing the amount of crude sitting in storage. Analysts and traders surveyed by The Wall Street Journal on average expect that stockpiles declined by 4.7 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 29.

Potential supply disruptions have become more pronounced in recent months, as the global glut that plagued the oil market for years has steadily diminished.

The unrest in Iran and geopolitical risk throughout the Middle East -- including in Iraq -- has helped push oil prices higher amid declining global inventories and continued efforts by major oil exporters to curb production.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries -- of which Iran is the third-largest member -- and 10 producers outside the cartel, including Russia, agreed in November to extend a deal to cut crude output by nearly 2% through the end of this year. The original accord was first struck as part of strategy to rein in the global supply glut and boost prices.

At the same time, expectations for global demand have strengthened as economies around the world have shown strong growth.

"Part of this rally has been a real rise in demand last year and demand prospects for this year," said John Kilduff, managing partner at Again Capital.

Gasoline futures rose 1.9% to $1.7974 a gallon and diesel futures gained 1.4% to $2.0880 a gallon, closing at the highest level since February 2015.

Write to Stephanie Yang at stephanie.yang@wsj.com and Christopher Alessi at christopher.alessi@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 03, 2018 16:57 ET (21:57 GMT)