* IEA, OPEC, EIA see higher demand for OPEC crude
* Oil above $60 a barrel, up more than 30 pct since mid-Jan
* Global oil demand may be stronger than
By Alex Lawler
LONDON, Feb 13 The world's three big energy
agencies are forecasting higher demand for OPEC's crude oil this
year, a sign the producing nations' strategy to let prices fall
is starting to win them back market share from rivals who are
After an oversupply of world oil sent prices tumbling in
2014, top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia urged fellow members not to
prop up the market and to try to knock out competing sources
like U.S. shale, which, because it has higher production costs,
had to cut output when prices fell.
In reports this week, The International Energy Agency and
the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have
raised by at least 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) their estimates
of demand for OPEC crude in 2015, while the U.S. government's
Energy Information Administration forecasts OPEC will pump
140,000 bpd more.
At the same time data suggesting a forthcoming economic
recovery has raised hopes for improving oil demand: Euro zone
economic growth accelerated unexpectedly in the final quarter of
2014 as the bloc's largest member, Germany, expanded at more
than twice the expected rate.
"The main three monthly oil market reports...sent
encouraging signals," said Daniela Corsini, analyst at Intesa
Sanpaolo. "On average, their estimates of the call on OPEC crude
have been increased significantly."
Those estimates also indicate that lower oil prices, which
have prompted shale oil and other oil producers to cut spending,
are also forcing them to cut supplies. That in turned has helped
Brent oil prices to rise towards $62 a barrel, up more
than 35 percent from a near six-year low close to $45 a barrel
on Jan. 13, though still a long way off the $115 hit in June.
OPEC officials have expressed cautious optimism about the
price recovery and noted signs of higher demand.
Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi discussed a
"relative improvement in the market in terms of an increase in
demand and the stability of prices in the current period" this
week with Algeria's justice minister, the official Saudi news
agency SPA reported.
OPEC pumps about 30 million bpd of crude, roughly a third of
the world's daily requirement. Rising demand for OPEC oil is
generally taken as a bullish sign in the oil market.
On Monday, OPEC forecast demand for its oil this year would
average 29.21 million bpd, up 430,000 bpd from its previous
The IEA, which advises the United States and other
industrialized countries, moved its forecast in the same
direction on Tuesday, albeit by a more modest upward revision of
200,000 bpd to 29.4 million bpd.
Also on Tuesday, the EIA in its report forecast OPEC will
produce 30.05 million bpd in 2015, up from its previous
projection of 29.91 million bpd.
"I do believe demand is in a much better shape than we
feared before and already expected right now," said Eugen
Weinberg, oil analyst at Commerzbank.
"All kinds of signs of demand being above expectation are
already in place. Especially in the U.S., where we had a real
boom in registrations of pickups and SUVs and everything else."
Still, this has yet to translate into more bullish global
oil demand estimates from the three forecasters. Instead they
raised their these forecasts only slightly or kept them
David Fyfe, a former IEA official and now head of research
at trading house Gunvor, also noted the common thread of the
monthly supply and demand balances but was cautious on whether
the oil rout was over.
"Certainly the balances have all moved in the same
direction, acknowledging that several months of $50 oil is going
to cause a supply-side reaction and I wouldn't disagree with
that," he said.
"But it is still a little too early be calling a floor for
prices having been reached. I think we're going to have a pretty
choppy, pretty volatile first half."
(Additional reporting by Himanshu Ojhar; Editing by Sophie