June 11, 2018 / 12:43 AM / 2 months ago

Oil near flat as OPEC supply hike appears less certain

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changed on Monday as comments from the Iraqi oil minister cast doubt as to whether the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would decide to boost output at its upcoming meeting.

FILE PHOTO: An oil well pump jack is seen at an oil field supply yard near Denver, Colorado, U.S., February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

Global benchmark Brent crude LCOc1 was unchanged to settle at $76.46 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude CLc1 rose 36 cents to settle at $66.07, its highest level since June 1.

U.S. crude’s relative gains were the result of profit-taking on the wide spread between the two benchmarks, said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois.

Oil had some support thanks to gains in the equities market, analysts said. All three major U.S. stock indexes were trading in positive territory on Monday, just hours ahead of the meeting in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Prices were also weighing uncertainty on OPEC supply hikes.

For 18 months, OPEC and its allies have curbed production in the hopes of stabilizing markets and supporting prices. The group is set to meet June 22-23 in Vienna and decide how to move forward with its supply curb policy against the backdrop of tumbling Venezuelan output and looming sanctions against Iran, the third-largest OPEC producer.

“Last week, we saw some news stories indicating that the Trump administration had asked OPEC to increase oil production. But the week went out and we saw those stories walk back. And now we’re seeing a number of OPEC producers who are in favor of the status quo,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow and Associates in Houston.

Iraq’s Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said that prices still require support and stability, and producers “should not over-exaggerate” the oil market’s need for more supplies. According to a statement, the minister also “rejects unilateral decisions by some oil producers without consulting the rest of the members” of the agreement.

Top exporter Saudi Arabia told OPEC that it raised oil output to slightly more than 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in May, a source familiar with the matter said, but still within its agreed target.

Even as OPEC trims output, production from non-OPEC members, including the United States and Russia, is rising.

Russian news agency Interfax said on Saturday that the country’s production had surpassed its target, hitting 11.1 million bpd in early June.

In the United States, the number of new rigs drilling for oil rose by one last week to 862, its highest since March 2015, data from energy services company Baker Hughes showed. [RIG/U]

That suggests U.S. output, already at a record 10.8 million bpd, will climb further.

(GRAPHIC: U.S. oil rig count - reut.rs/2JAMsXg)

Additional reporting by Christopher Johnson in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; editing by Marguerita Choy, David Goodman and G Crosse

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