(Corrects country in penultimate paragraph to Azerbaijan)
* Speculators keep raising bullish bets on Brent - ICE
* U.S. oil rig count falls for second straight week - Baker Hughes
* U.S. inventory fall is result of OPEC-led production cuts-Kuwait
* Libya declares force majeure on Sharara crude after blockade
By Karolin Schaps
AMSTERDAM, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Oil prices fell around 1 percent on Monday as a rally at the end of last week prompted investors to close positions at a higher price, against a backdrop of signs the global market is starting to rebalance.
Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 56 cents at $52.16 a barrel at 1342 GMT, after surging more than 3 percent in the previous session.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures traded at $48.19 a barrel, down 32 cents. The contract had also risen 3 percent in the previous session.
“We are currently seeing some profit-taking after Friday’s strong rally ahead of this week’s inventory data,” said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro.
“Fresh uncertainty about inventories and OPEC compliance (with agreed production cuts) could be enough reason to sell some of the long positions.”
U.S. hedge funds and money managers have already started reducing their bets on rising prices, with Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showing on Friday that investors had cut bullish bets on U.S. crude for a second straight week.
Investors in Europe disagree on the outlook, however, as data from the InterContinental Exchange showed speculators raised bullish Brent crude bets last week.
The world remains awash with oil despite a deal struck by some of the world’s biggest producers to rein in output. Rising U.S. production has been a major factor keeping supply and demand from balancing.
However, there are indications that U.S. output may soon slow, as energy companies cut rigs drilling for new oil for a second week in three, energy services firm Baker Hughes reported on Friday. Drillers cut five rigs in the week to Aug. 18, decreasing the count to 763. RIG-OL-USA-BHI
“The rig count suffered its biggest fall since January, adding to signs that the market is tightening,” ANZ bank said.
Also, U.S. commercial crude inventories have fallen almost 13 percent from their March peaks to 466.5 million barrels. C-STK-T-EIA
The oil minister of Kuwait, which is participating in OPEC-led production cuts, said U.S. crude stocks were falling more than expected because output cuts were taking effect.
Azerbaijan, not an OPEC member but one of the countries which has committed to the production curbing deal, also remains committed to decreasing output, the head of state oil company SOCAR told Reuters in an interview.
Elsewhere, a shutdown of Libya’s Sharara field due to a pipeline blockage provided some upside. Libya’s National Oil Corp declared force majeure on loadings of Sharara crude from the Zawiya oil terminal on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by David Holmes and David Evans