December 20, 2019 / 1:51 AM / a month ago

Oil prices hold near 3-month highs on U.S.-China trade deal progress

* Brent, WTI hover near highest levels since mid-September

* Both benchmarks heading for third consecutive weekly rise

* Thaw in U.S.-China trade tensions boosts oil demand prospects

* U.S. crude inventories fell 1.1 mln bbls last week - EIA

By Jane Chung

SEOUL, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Oil prices held steady near three-month highs on Friday on the back of easing Sino-U.S. trade tensions that have weighed on demand as well as the global economic growth outlook.

Brent futures rose 2 cents, or 0.03%, to 66.56 a barrel by 0145 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 9 cents, or 0.15%, at $61.09 per barrel.

Both benchmarks were still on track for a third consecutive weekly rise.

Progress in a long-running trade dispute between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest oil consumers, has boosted expectations for higher energy demand next year.

China on Thursday announced a list of import tariff exemptions for six oil and chemical products from the United States, days after the world’s two largest economies announced an interim trade deal.

“A world with less uncertainty (following last week’s proposed U.S.-China trade agreement) was the real driver of the market optimism on the 2020 outlook,” ANZ Research said in a note.

JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs raised its 2020 oil price outlook earlier this week amid OPEC-led output cuts and an improved global trade outlook.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia agreed in early December to make a further cut of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 on top of previous reductions of 1.2 million bpd.

The trade deal progress aside, a drop in U.S. crude inventories also supported oil prices to hold near three-month highs.

U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell by 1.1 million barrels to 446.8 million barrels in the week to Dec. 13, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

ANZ Research also said “an expected fall in U.S. drilling activity should support oil prices.”

A U.S. weekly drilling report by energy services firm Baker Hughes Co is due to be released on Friday. U.S. drilling firms added 4 oil rigs in the week to Dec. 13, bringing the total count to 667.

Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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