Oil gains as bullish bets on rising prices hit record high

By By Ahmad GhaddarFeaturesReuters

Oil prices rose on Monday as investors showed record confidence in prices rising further, though gains were capped by the prospect of faster growth in U.S. oil production.

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Brent crude oil rose 55 cents to $56.54 a barrel by 1053 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate added 39 cents to $54.38.

Money managers raised their bullish U.S. crude futures and options positions in the week to Feb. 21 to the highest on record, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.

"Oil prices are being supported by the ongoing buying interest shown by speculative financial investors, who for the first time expanded their net long positions in WTI to more than 400,000 contracts," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said in a note.

Speculators also raised their bets on a rally in Brent crude futures to a record high in the week to Feb. 14, with fresh data expected to be released later on Monday.

"With speculators increasing their bullish bets on U.S. crude to an all-time high, the risk of disappointment and subsequent downward spiral in prices has never been greater," oil brokerage PVM's Stephen Brennock said.

Among the risks is the level of compliance to the deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers to bring down oil output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd).

OPEC's record compliance with the deal has surprised the market, and the biggest laggards, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq, have pledged to catch up with their targets.

The International Energy Agency put OPEC's average compliance at a record 90 percent in January. Based on a Reuters average of production surveys, compliance stands at 88 percent.

A Reuters survey of OPEC production later this week will show compliance for February.

Looming over the success of the deal is the reaction of U.S. shale producers to rising prices and their ability to increase output.

U.S. drillers added five oil rigs in the week to Feb. 24 to 602, the most since October 2015, energy services firm Baker Hughes Inc said on Friday.

Over the past two weeks the U.S. implied shale oil rig count went up by 15.

"[This] is marginally higher than our projected 7 rigs per week for first half 2017," wrote Nordic bank SEB chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop.

The bank has adjusted its dynamic price forecast for 2019 marginally lower from $68.30 a barrel to $67.90.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman)