Oil prices set to end week higher on output freeze talk, but stocks build

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Friday but are set for their first weekly increase this month as talk of a coordinated plan by producers to freeze output levels was tempered by a record build in U.S. crude inventories.

Brent futures LCOc1 were down 45 cents at $33.83 a barrel by 1236 GMT, with U.S. crude CLc1 falling by 46 cents to $30.31.

Oil prices had risen by more than 14 percent earlier in the week on Saudi Arabia and Russia’s agreement to freeze output at January levels.

While Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh welcomed the plan, he fell short of committing to it and Iranian sources told Reuters that capping output is not enough to rebalance the market.

Saudi Arabia repeated that it had no plans to cut output and would continue to protect its market share.

“If other producers want to limit or agree to a freeze in terms of additional production, that may have an impact on the market, but Saudi Arabia is not prepared to cut production,” foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told Agence France-Presse in an interview on Thursday.

Russia’s first deputy-energy minister Alexey Texler said on Friday an output freeze deal could clear half of a global oversupply of 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd).

“The OPEC output freeze, coupled with very affordable retail gasoline fuel prices, should help push oil back to $47 by June,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note on Friday.

Iraq’s oil minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday talks would continue between OPEC and non-OPEC members to find ways to restore “normal” oil prices after a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

A record build in U.S. crude inventories last week stoked concerns over persistent global oversupply. Crude stocks rose by 2.1 million barrels to a peak of 504.1 million, data from the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Thursday. [EIA/S]

The recovery at the back end of the WTI curve this week is prompting U.S. shale producers, for the first time in months, to inquire and place new hedges to lock in 2017 prices of around $45 a barrel.

The activity reflects expectations of growing investor and lender pressure to safeguard heavy debt requirements down the road, as well as declining drilling costs, allowing companies to break even at lower prices.

(Additional reporting by Keith Wallis in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman and Susan Thomas)

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