US crude rises 1.6%, settling at $45.33, but posts third straight weekly loss

Oil prices ticked were higher on Friday after a week of volatile trading, but shed early gains on profit-taking ahead of the New Year holiday as global crude benchmarks hovered near their lowest levels in more than a year.

Brent crude oil futures were up 6 cents at $52.22 a barrel by 2:28 p.m. ET, having earlier risen to $53.80 a barrel. It had dropped 4.2 percent on Thursday.

U.S. light crude rose 76 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $45.37, after reaching $46.22 a barrel earlier.

Both benchmarks are set for their third straight week of losses, with Brent on track to drop about 3 percent and WTI set to fall half a percent.

Oil prices fell to their lowest levels in a year and a half this week and are down more than 20 percent for the year, depressed by rising supply and concerns about the health of the global economy.

U.S. crude inventories were down by 46,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 21, the Energy Information Administration said on Friday. Gasoline stocks rose by 3 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a gain of 28,000 barrels.

“The report was modestly bearish, as crude oil stocks held steady versus expectations of a sizeable decline,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. “The net effect of the report should keep prices fairly flat ahead of the weekend.”

Traders appeared to be squaring their books ahead of expected light volumes on Monday and a market closure on Tuesday for the New Year’s Day holiday.

“Looks like some people in the U.S. and UK got a nice opportunity to bail out of longs,” Sukrit Vijayakar, principal and trader at Trifecta Consultants in Mumbai, told Reuters Global Oil Forum.

Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore, said crude prices had been pressured by slowing economic growth “coupled with the expectation of strong U.S. production in the new year.”

The United States has emerged as the world’s biggest crude producer this year, pumping 11.6 million barrels per day, more than both Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Earlier this month, OPEC and its allies, including Russia, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million bpd, or more than 1 percent of global consumption, starting in January.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday that Russia would cut its crude output by between 3 million and 5 million tonnes in the first half of 2019 as part of the deal.

Novak also told reporters the U.S. decision to allow some countries to trade Iranian oil after putting Tehran under sanctions was one of the key factors behind the OPEC deal.

Imports of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit their lowest level in more than five years in November as the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports took effect last month, government and ship-tracking data showed.

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