Oil Holds Gains After Topping $50 on Saudi Pledge to Cut Output

Oil held gains in Asia after surging to a 10-month high on a surprise Saudi Arabian pledge to cut an extra 1 million barrels a day of crude output in February and March as a rampant coronavirus saps demand.

Futures in New York were steady after jumping 4.9% on Tuesday and briefly topping $50 a barrel for the first time since February. OPEC+ reached anagreement following two days of talks to curb supply over the next two months. The move by Saudi Arabia, the group’s de-facto leader, paved the way for other producers to keep supplies unchanged and for Russia and Kazakhstan to lift output by a combined 75,000 barrels a day in both February and March.

The kingdom’s move, which Russia’s deputy prime minister called a “new year gift” to the oil market, comes amid more stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions to rein in a surge ofinfections. Germany extended its lockdown and tightened restrictions, while Dalian in China asked people considered more vulnerable to Covid-19 to leave the city due to an outbreak there.

OPEC+ faces a complex demand outlook as it decides how to move forward with its output plan month by month. There are indications that parts of the global economy are staging a comeback, with a gauge of U.S. manufacturing expanding last month at thefastest pace since 2018. But other areas of the demand recovery that had seemed constant are showing signs of wavering.

  • West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rose 0.1% to $49.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 9:02 a.m. in Singapore
  • Brent for March settlement added 0.3% to $53.76 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after closing up 4.9% on Tuesday
  • Crude futures jumped 4.5% to 325.1 yuan a barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange after dropping 2.8% on Tuesday

The Saudi move reflects signs of weak demand as lockdowns return, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note. The output cuts and the prospect for a tight market next quarter will likely support prices in the coming weeks, it said.

The decision and the rally in prices may give the U.S. shale industry some room to begin snapping up market share, though financial hardships from the pandemic and investor expectations remain obstacles. It’s an especially sweet gift for U.S. shale drillers, said Helima Croft, chief commodities strategist at RBC Capital Markets. Shale stocks subsequently surged.

See also: Saudi Arabia’s Double-Edged Gift for U.S. Shale: Liam Denning

The American Petroleum Institute reported that U.S.crude inventories fell by 1.66 million barrels last week, according to people familiar with the data, which would be the fourth straight weekly drop if confirmed by official figures due Wednesday. The API reported sharp jumps in gasoline and distillates stockpiles, however, a sign the virus is damping demand for fuel.

The oil futures curve reacted to the Saudi move. Brent’s prompt timespread was 10 cents in backwardation — where near-dated prices are more expensive than later-dated ones — compared with a 7-cent contango on Monday. That’s a bullish signal that the market is comfortable with the supply-demand outlook.

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