By Aaron Sheldrick
TOKYO (Reuters) – Crude futures rose in early Asian trade, with U.S. oil climbing above $50 a barrel, after an influential forecaster predicted that a market rally was not far off and U.S. Federal Reserve minutes suggested there was no hurry to raise rates.
The gains added to a surge in prices on Thursday, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, on track for a near 12-percent advance this week, the biggest weekly rise since early 2009.
Brent was up 63 cents at $53.68 a barrel at 0652 GMT and rose to as high as $54.00.
U.S. crude was 80 cents higher at $50.23 a barrel. The contract rose as far as $50.58, the highest since July 22.
“The price is really testing both the 100-day and 200-day moving averages,” said Mark Pervan, senior commodity strategist at ANZ in Melbourne.
“The next level is … nearly $51, so I think you might see a bit of technical trading here to see if they can push through that resistance level,” he said, adding that resistance could be strong.
He also noted that seasonal demand was starting to pick up.
U.S. crude is heading for a gain of more than 10 percent this week, its biggest weekly increase since August.
PIRA Energy Group, a closely watched forecaster that predicted the slump in oil prices a year ago, said on Thursday it expected crude prices to rise to $70 per barrel by the end of 2016 and $75 a barrel in 2017.
Others are more bullish longer term. Energy Aspects is forecasting Brent to average $68 in 2016 and $98 in 2017, analyst Richard Mallinson told the Platts Asian Crude Oil Summit in Singapore on Friday.
After the July nuclear agreement, Iran will ramp up exports much slower than expected by the market, Mallinson said.
If sanctions are eased, Iran will be able to bring between 250,000 and 400,000 barrels a day of additional crude to export markets around mid-2016. After that, significant extra volumes will only come in 2017 or 2018, Mallinson said.
Also supporting prices was the release of the Fed minutes, which showed that policymakers are concerned that the global economic slowdown may affect the outlook for the U.S.
This led investors to further pare bets that the Fed is likely to raise rates later rather than sooner.
(Additional reporting by Jacob Pedersen in Singapore; Editing by Richard Pullin and Anand Basu)