Oil hits two-month high as China truce signals brighter outlook

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U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were up 78 cents, or 1.5 percent, at $52.85 per barrel. USA output is set to expand by 1.1 million barrels a day this year and may exceed Saudi Arabia's maximum level within the next six months, according to the IEA.

The IEA said non-OPEC production growth was set to slow to 1.6 million bpd in 2019 after record annual gains of 2.6 million bpd in 2018.

Saudi Arabia demonstrated its resolve to lift oil prices by slashing output ahead of the entry into force of new pact limiting production while Russian Federation boosted output to a record level, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

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Last week, the US Energy Department forecast a slow recovery for Brent prices during 2019 - averaging US$61 a barrel for the year and nearing US$63 by the fourth quarter.

Most of the reduction came from Saudi Arabia (470,000 bpd), but there were also substantial cuts from Iran (160,000 bpd) and Libya (170,000 bpd) as a result of USA sanctions and domestic unrest respectively.

The International Energy Agency maintained its outlook for an acceleration in global demand growth this year as lower prices offset the economic slowdown.

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"The combination of production cuts by OPEC+ (especially the Saudis) and tightening sanctions on Iranian oil exports have brought the market close to balance", USA investment bank Jefferies said. Whether prices will remain in a bull market largely depends on the impact of the 1.2 MMbpd in cuts pledged by major crude producers.

Currently, Saudi Arabia could raise production all the way up to its maximum capacity of 12 million barrels a day.

U.S. output has climbed by 2.4 million bpd since January 2018 and stockpiles of crude and refined products have risen sharply, U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed. Prices got another boost later, on expectations that United States sanctions on Iran would cut supplies to major importers including China, India and Japan. Bloomberg News reported China proposed a six-year shopping binge for American goods, diminishing concerns about a brake on economic growth. If the United States does not intend to renew the waivers, Iran's crude oil output is likely to fall further below 2.5 million bpd. In both 2019 and 2020, China is the leading contributor to global oil demand growth. China saw its exports fall unexpectedly in December by 4.4 percent, the most in two years, with imports also falling 7.6 percent in their biggest decline since July 2016.

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