April 27, 2018, 6:53 am
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1 Philippine Peso = 0.07067 UAE Dirham
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1 Philippine Peso = 1 Philippine Peso
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Oil prices close to mid-2015 highs

SINGAPORE- Oil prices were stable on Wednesday, not far off mid-2015 highs reached the previous session, as strong demand and ongoing efforts led by OPEC and Russia to curb production tightened the market.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $60.40 a barrel, up 3 cents from their last close, and not far off the $60.74 June 2015 high reached the previous day.

Brent crude futures - the international benchmark for oil prices - were at $66.55 a barrel, down 2 cents but still not far off the $67.29 May 2015 high from the previous day.

Despite this, there were indicators that markets had overshot in the last days of 2017 and trading this year, as US production is set to rise further and doubts are emerging about whether demand growth can continue at current levels.

Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Denmark’s Saxo Bank warned that “multiple but temporary supply disruptions” like the North Sea Forties and Libyan pipeline outages (and) protests across Iran ... helped create a record speculative long bet.”

With the pipeline outages resolved and the protests in Iran showing no signs of impacting its oil production, Hansen said there was potential for a price downturn in early 2018, especially due to rising US output. 

“It is only a matter of time before the 10 million barrel per day (bpd) production target will be reached,” Hansen said.

US oil production has risen by almost 16 percent since mid-2016, hitting 9.75 million bpd at the end of last year.

There was also some concern that output by Russia, the world’s biggest oil producer and one of the key drivers together with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in cutting supplies, was in fact not falling.

As part of the supply cut deal, Russia pledged to reduce its output by 300,000 bpd from the 30-year monthly high of 11.247 million bpd hit in October 2016, which it achieved by the second quarter of 2017, according to Russian energy ministry data.

For the whole of 2017, however, Russian output rose to an average output of 10.98 million bpd, compared with 10.96 million bpd in 2016 and 10.72 million bpd in 2015.

“We also have some concerns about the Chinese economy in 2018 that ultimately could lead to lower than expected demand growth,” Hansen said.

“By year-end we see Brent crude at $60 per barrel with WTI three dollars lower at $57 per barrel.” 

Meanwhile, top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is expected to keep the February price for Arab Light crude steady, close to the highest in more than three years, while lowering prices for medium and heavy grades, a survey by Reuters showed on Tuesday.

Robust spot crude demand and stronger margins for middle distillates will underpin Saudi crude prices, but the producer was unlikely to raise prices further as Asia’s “demand is expected to fall because of spring maintenance”, one of the four respondents said in the survey.

The official selling price (OSP) for Saudi’s flagship Arab Light crude could pause in February, after rising in January for the fifth straight month to its highest since September 2014, the survey showed.

Backwardation between first and third month cash Dubai was relatively unchanged in December from the previous month, the respondents said. In a backwardated market, prompt prices are higher than those in future months, indicating strong demand for immediate supplies.

A widening of Brent’s premium to Dubai reduced arbitrage supplies from the Atlantic Basin and spurred Asia’s demand for Middle East and Russian crude, pushing spot premiums for these grades in February to multi-month highs. 

Still, Saudi Aramco could trim February prices for Arab Medium and Arab Heavy on weaker returns from fuel oil production, the respondents said. The average fuel oil margins in Asia fell about 50 percent in December from the previous month, Reuters data showed. 

Saudi crude OSPs are usually released around the fifth of each month, and set the trend for Iranian, Kuwaiti and Iraqi prices, affecting more than 12 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude bound for Asia.

Saudi Aramco sets its crude prices based on recommendations from customers and after calculating the change in the value of its oil over the past month, based on yields and product prices.

Saudi Aramco officials as a matter of policy do not comment on the kingdom’s monthly OSPs. – Reuters 
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