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Stars align to support a rally in crude oil prices

Strong demand outlooks and general economic health are keeping Brent crude oil prices above $70 per barrel for now.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
The trend for oil prices is clearly in favor of the bulls as a string of good indicators push Brent above $70 per barrel. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
The trend for oil prices is clearly in favor of the bulls as a string of good indicators push Brent above $70 per barrel. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Positive economic sentiments from the European Central Bank, a balancing market and a weak U.S. dollar all led to large gains for oil prices early Thursday.

Crude oil prices were lifted in the Wednesday session after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported total U.S. crude oil inventories dropped by 1.1 million barrels for the week ending Jan. 19. The American Petroleum Institute said its read saw U.S. crude oil inventories increase by 4.8 million barrels, while commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts was expecting a drain on stockpiles.

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Geoffrey Craig, the oil futures editor at Platts, said U.S. oil movements were contributing to the drain in part because of the spread, or difference, between Brent, the global benchmark, and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil.

The spread was in the range of $5 to $7 per barrel, with the premium for Brent. As of Thursday, the spread is under $5 per barrel and Craig said a "key question" is whether or not that moves closer to $3 per barrel. The spread gives U.S. crude oil a competitive edge and exports are helping to narrow the gap between supply and demand in the world's largest economy, but the rally in general is supporting gains in U.S. production.

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"Those additional barrels could drag oil prices lower, but for now, pressure has yet to emerge, partly because of OPEC-led production cuts that expire at the end of this year," he said. "Another factor neutralizing the impact of U.S. shale supplies has been expectations for solid demand growth given the rosy global economic outlook."

Brent was up 0.58 percent as of 9:17 a.m. EST to $70.94 per barrel. WTI was up 0.9 percent to $66.20 per barrel.

Speaking in Brussels, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the main lending rate in the regional economy would stay unchanged. It's still necessary for a stimulus effort to support inflation near 2 percent, a rate many consider to be healthy, but the overall outlook for the European economy was good.

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"Incoming information confirms a robust pace of economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the second half of 2017," he said in a statement.

In the United States, meanwhile, data from the U.S. Labor Department show first-time claims for unemployment increased 17,000 for the week ending Jan. 20, though the less-volatile four-week average was down by 3,500.

That followed support for a weaker U.S. dollar from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst for UBS, told UPI he wasn't seeing a weak greenback as driving the market, however.

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"I believe other factors are driving the price rally -- primarily falling inventories as [a] result of the OPEC deal and strong demand," he said.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is in year two of an agreement to curtail production in order to balance an oversupplied market.

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