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Growing U.S. oil inventories pull oil prices lower

Markets are still balancing, however, with the overhang well below the five-year average for U.S. crude oil stockpiles.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Growing U.S. oil inventories pull oil prices lower
Crude oil prices turn lower in early Thursday trading as investors eye steady growth in the U.S. energy sector. File Photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

March 29 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices looked set for another round of losses, falling off near-yearly highs on the back of supply-side pressure from the United States.

"U.S. crude stocks increased last week by more than was anticipated," Geoffrey Craig, the oil futures editor at commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts, said in market commentary emailed to UPI.

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The price for Brent crude oil had topped $70 per barrel earlier this week on concerns about U.S. pressures on Iran and Venezuela, as well as geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. Both Iran and Venezuela are part of an effort steered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to erase a market surplus, though the pressure could mean less oil in a market tilting toward balance. OPEC's effort, meanwhile, has been offset by gains in U.S. crude oil production

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that U.S. crude oil inventories rose 1.6 million barrels, beating the Platts estimate of 1 million barrels. The American Petroleum Institute reported that its data showed U.S. stockpiles jumped 5.3 million barrels last week.

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The price for Brent crude oil was down 0.63 percent as of 8:33 a.m. EST to $68.33 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was down 0.25 percent to $64.22 per barrel.

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Markets are balancing, however. Platts data show crude oil inventories have swelled by 18.3 million barrels over the past two months or so, compared with an average increase of 40.7 million barrels over the five years ending in 2017.

An industry survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, meanwhile, found the market was supportive of the energy sector in Texas, the No. 1 oil producer in the United States.

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"Almost all respondents can cover operating expenses for existing wells at current prices," the survey results read.

The price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, averaged $62.72 per barrel during the March 14-22 survey period. Most respondents expected WTI to be $63.07 per barrel by the end of the year.

Broader markets will be influenced by weekly U.S. jobs data out early Thursday morning. The labor sector has been a bright spot in a U.S. economy that's slowed since the third quarter growth rate of 3.2 percent. Revised federal data, however, show growth at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter, up from the previous estimate of 2.5 percent.

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The Labor Department reported first-time claims for unemployment dropped 12,000 from the previous week, with claims at their lowest level in more than 40 years. The less-volatile four-week moving average showed a decrease of 500 from last week, where data was revised up by 1,250.

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