Oil hits 2019 high as supply squeeze looms, Brent nears $70 per barrel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices hit their highest of 2019 on Tuesday, with Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel, on the prospect that more sanctions against Iran and further Venezuelan disruptions could deepen an OPEC-led supply cut.

Brent futures reached a session peak at $69.50 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 13. The global benchmark was 27 cents, or 0.4 percent, higher at $69.28 a barrel by 1:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT).

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 92 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $62.51 a barrel, after touching $62.52, its highest since Nov. 7.

"Today's multi-month highs in WTI and Brent are keeping this bull move alive as prices are beginning to advance more than we had expected," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates. "But despite attainment of our $62 upside WTI target, we will caution against accepting profits prematurely given a recent burst of bullish momentum."

The United States is considering more sanctions against Iran, the fourth-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an official said.

Meanwhile, a crude terminal in Venezuela, also under U.S. sanctions, has halted operations again due to power problems.

Further supply losses from Iran and Venezuela could widen an OPEC-led production cut. OPEC supply hit a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found, due to the involuntary declines and as top exporter Saudi Arabia cut more than agreed.

Russia, the biggest non-OPEC producer in the so-called OPEC+ group, has yet to reach its production-cutting target. Russian oil output declined to 11.3 million barrels per day (bpd) last month, energy ministry data showed.

While the country's output was down by around 112,000 bpd from the October 2018 level, Russia has pledged to cut output by 228,000 bpd from that level.

Investors will watch weekly U.S. crude inventory data. Analysts in a Reuters poll estimated that stocks fell 400,000 barrels last week.

Data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute is due out at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT), while U.S. government data will be released on Wednesday.


Oil's pattern on the price charts could lead to further gains. Brent is just below the 200-day moving average and a move above this mark would boost technical support, said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix.

Investors have worried for months that weak global economic data could slow demand for crude, but healthier data this week from the United States and China bolstered prices.

Figures showing a rebound in U.S. factory activity in March and a return to growth in Chinese manufacturing eased concerns about a global economic slowdown.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)