Oil prices continued to climb Thursday, rising for a fourth straight day on shrinking global inventories and a bullish forecast for demand.
U.S. crude futures settled up 59 cents, or 1.2%, at $49.89 a barrel -- paring gains to fall just short of the $50-a-barrel mark. Brent, the global benchmark, rose 31 cents, or 0.56%, to $55.47 a barrel.
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The difference between the two benchmarks recently had widened to around $6 a barrel after Hurricane Harvey took several refiners in the U.S. offline, but analysts said that U.S. crude is poised to close some of the gap as refiners ramp back up and exports from Gulf Coast ports resume.
And data indicating higher demand and falling output from major oil exporters have bolstered prices all week.
The International Energy Agency on Wednesday said global oil supplies dropped for the first time in four months in August, by 720,000 barrels a day, while raising its oil demand growth forecast to 1.6 million barrels a day for the full year.
"Everyone obsesses about supply, but the demand side has been blowing and going," said John Saucer, vice president of research and analysis at Mobius Risk Group." That, combined with several other bullish data points through the week, has helped oil prices rise through key technical levels, adding to the momentum, Mr. Saucer said.
The IEA report came on the heels of a bullish monthly report from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which said the cartel's output had fallen in August for the first time since April. The decline was primarily driven by a precipitous drop in Libyan production following renewed civil unrest, as well higher compliance with an OPEC agreement to rein in output.
OPEC and 10 producers outside the cartel first agreed late last year to cap production at around 1.8 million barrels a day lower than peak October 2016 levels, part of an effort to alleviate the global oil glut and boost prices. But the deal, which was extended in May through March 2018, hasn't had as significant an impact on the market as hoped.
That is partly because of a continued surge in U.S. shale production, along with unexpected spikes in production from Libya and Nigeria -- two OPEC members exempt from the deal because their oil industries had been disrupted by political instability.
OPEC and non-OPEC signatories to the deal have been discussing whether to extend the cuts past the March deadline. While those talks are a "welcome step," an extension is unlikely to be particularly effective without caps on Libyan output that would bring down absolute production, according to Tamas Varga, an analyst at brokerage PVM Oil Associates Ltd. "At the current level, rebalancing will remain slow and painful," Mr. Varga wrote in a note Thursday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday in its weekly report that U.S. gasoline stockpiles came down by 8.4 million barrels in the week ended Sept. 8, the largest weekly drop on record. Crude stockpiles rose by 5.9 million barrels during the same week, a result of lagging demand from recovering refineries in the wake of Harvey.
Gasoline futures fell 1.86 cents, or 1.13%, to $1.6287 a gallon. Diesel futures rose 0.9 cent, or 0.51%, to $1.7775 a gallon.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 14, 2017 16:21 ET (20:21 GMT)