Singapore — Oil prices edged higher on Thursday, supported by lower US inventories, as investors waited for a decision from key producers on whether they would maintain or ease supply cuts in the second half of the year.
Brent crude for September gained 17 US cents, or 0.2%, to $74.79 a barrel by 3.55am GMT while the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for August was at $73.68 a barrel, up 21c, or 0.3%, close to its highest since 2018 of $74.45.
WTI rose more than 10% in June while Brent added over 8%, touching highs last seen in 2018, as summer travel in the northern hemisphere picked up and more people got vaccinated.
Analysts had forecast a wider supply deficit globally in the second half as global oil cartel Opec and its allies, known as Opec+, maintained production cuts while demand rises.
Opec+ is easing supply cuts between May and July by 2.1-million barrels per day (bpd) and will meet on Thursday to decide whether to leave production unchanged or boost output, possibly by more than 1-million bpd or by a more modest 0.5-million bpd in August. The group is expected to also discuss whether to extend the supply reduction deal to beyond April 2022.
“Sideline discussions indicate that Russia is proposing to boost supply while Saudi Arabia wants a more cautious approach,” ANZ analysts said in a note.
Analysts at Citi bank said global oil market fundamentals should be robust enough to justify an easing of production cuts, adding that they were factoring in a 1-million bpd surge in Opec supplies in August.
Even after accounting for higher Opec+ production, Citi expects the market to remain in a deep deficit of more than 3-million bpd through the third quarter with a high probability of Brent hitting around $85.
However, outbreaks of the Delta virus variant are raising concerns that demand recovery may falter. Renewed lockdowns and rising costs have already weakened momentum in Asia’s factory activities in June.
In the US, crude stockpiles fell last week for the sixth straight week in response to rising demand, data from the Energy Information Administration showed.
A drop in crude inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI, to the lowest level since March 2020 also underpinned the US benchmark, squeezing its discount to Brent to the narrowest since June 2020 on Wednesday.
Brent was seen averaging $67.48 a barrel in 2021 and WTI $64.54, both up from forecasts in May, a June Reuters poll showed.