By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices were steady on Friday, supported as production cuts led by OPEC and U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran likely created a slight deficit in global supply in the first quarter of 2019.
But oil prices have been capped by concerns that an economic slowdown will soon start denting growth in fuel demand.
Brent crude oil futures were at $67.15 per barrel at 0126 GMT, 8 cents below their last close, but still within a dollar of the $68.14 2019-high reached the previous day.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $58.55 per barrel, down 6 cents from their last settlement, and not far off their 2019-high of $58.74 from the previous day.
Despite Friday’s dips, oil has rallied around a quarter since the start of the year.
“Crude oil continues to grind higher … in response to ongoing production cuts from the OPEC+ group of producers as well as another (output) slump from a blacked-out Venezuela,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Denmark’s Saxo Bank.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-affiliated allies such as Russia – known as the OPEC+ alliance – pledged to withhold 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in crude supply from the start of the year to tighten markets and prop up prices.
Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela as well as Iran have further tightened oil markets.
With OPEC voluntarily withholding supply and U.S. sanctions preventing Iranian and Venezuelan oil from entering markets, global crude flow data in Refinitiv showed a slight supply deficit likely appeared in the first quarter.
GRAPHIC: Global oil supply & demand (https://tmsnrt.rs/2O4NEW5)
Preventing oil from rising further have been concerns that a economic slowdown that has gripped large parts of Asia and Europe, and which is showing signs of spilling into North America, will soon dent fuel demand growth.
But oil demand has held up well so far.
Crude oil use in China, the world’s biggest importer, in the first two months of 2019 rose 6.1 percent from a year earlier to a record 12.68 million bpd, official data showed this week.
“Oil demand concerns are overdone,” Goldman Sachs said in a note on Friday.
The U.S. bank said January global crude oil demand growth was “nearly 2.0 million barrels per day, with strength visible in both emerging markets and developed economies”.
Goldman said “current fundamentals will tighten physical markets further”, driving up spot Brent crude futures above $70 per barrel “as supply losses continue (and) demand growth beats low consensus expectations”.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)