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Oil prices inch up cautiously in data waiting game

Moody's Investors Service sees trading band continue, while Exxon unveils big spending plans.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Oil prices inch up cautiously in data waiting game
Oil prices stage soft rally in early Wednesday trading as market watchers wait to see how conditions look in the U.S. oil sector. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

March 1 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices fought off competing production narratives in early Wednesday trading to inch higher, but U.S. supply data could set the tone later in the day.

Crude oil prices moved in wide swings Tuesday, the last trading day for February, as markets continued to search for clear direction. Gains in U.S. crude oil production are offsetting efforts by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to balance an oversupplied market with managed production declines.

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Saudi Arabia is leading the pack among OPEC members with declines, though production from outside the group, notably from Russia, has been relatively stable since the start of the year. Russia is party to the OPEC agreements that triggered the managed declines, though its contribution has been relatively fluid as it has many players in the oil game.

Meanwhile, production from the North Sea, a waning area for producers, is up for the second year in a row. A research note from broker PVM finds operating costs are substantially lower than three years ago.

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Crude oil prices moved up only marginally as traders waited for formal supply data from the U.S. government. The price for Brent crude oil was up 0.44 percent about a half hour before the start of trading in New York to $56.76 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price for oil, was up 0.37 percent to $54.21 per barrel.

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Data from the American Petroleum Institute found U.S. crude oil inventories increased 2.5 million barrels for the week ending Feb. 24. If confirmed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that could indicate supply strains are building, though storage data may be skewed as U.S. refineries start shifting operations to make a summer blend of gasoline.

Elsewhere, U.S. supermajor Exxon Mobil said Wednesday it plans to spend about $22 billion this year, a 16 percent increase from last year. Total spending on things like exploration through the rest of the decade will average $25 billion per year and production growth could be as high as 750,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

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Crude oil prices have traded in a narrow band around $55 per barrel for most of the year despite wide swings in day-to-day levels. Moody's Investors Service said early in the day it was maintaining a forecast for both Brent and WTI at between $40 and $60 per barrel.

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