Oil Slips After Hitting Three-Year High

By Christopher Alessi and Alison Sider Features Dow Jones Newswires

Oil prices fell Friday as some investors cashed in on the week's strong gains and others mulled ambiguous U.S. inventory data.

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U.S. crude futures fell 44 cents, or 0.71%, to $61.57 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent, the global benchmark, fell 35 cents, or 0.51%, to $67.72 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

Prices had closed at a fresh three-year high Thursday, on the back of declining U.S. crude stockpiles and perceived geopolitical risk to supply because of antigovernment protests in Iran.

The decline today is "more related to profit-taking after a good week," said Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst at UBS Wealth Management.

Mr. Staunovo said the market was likely also reconsidering petroleum-stocks data released yesterday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency reported a 7.4 million decline in crude barrels for the ended Dec. 29, but said gasoline inventories rose by 4.8 million barrels and distillate stocks climbed by 8.9 million barrels, as refineries increased utilization rates.

"It's just moving crude from one barrel to another one," Mr. Staunovo said.

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Analysts at TAC Energy said oil's move lower "looks like a natural correction of the ongoing bull market." Still, they said relatively steady gasoline and diesel prices, despite the big builds in stockpiles, are a sign that "bulls are firmly in control of the petroleum complex for now."

The increase in distillate inventories was the highest single weekly build over the past year, according to consultancy JBC Energy.

Gasoline stocks fell mainly as a result of sharp fall in demand, as a "seasonal lull in demand began in earnest," according to analysts at brokerage PVM Oil Associates Ltd. Distillates, the analysts added, suffered from "a dip in domestic consumption and fall in exports."

However, extreme weather conditions in the U.S. Northeast should increase demand and crack spreads for distillates such as diesel and heating oil, according to analysts at Commerzbank.

Gasoline futures edged down 0.75 cent, or 0.42%, to $1.7992 a gallon. Diesel futures fell 0.92 cent, or 0.44%, to $2.0678 a gallon.

Some analysts expect that oil prices will struggle to hold at these lofty levels, in the face of rising output from producers in the U.S.

"As such, we expect supply to increase this year and the market to only fall into a small deficit by end-2018. As a result, OPEC will struggle to meet its target of a reduction in OECD stocks to their five-year average," analysts at Capital Economics wrote in a research note Friday.

Oil market observers will be looking ahead to an EIA report Jan. 9 outlining the agency's outlook for 2019 and the implications for U.S. crude production.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 05, 2018 11:19 ET (16:19 GMT)