March 1, 2019 / 1:24 AM / 2 months ago

Oil falls 2 percent as demand worries overtake supply cuts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices settled down about 2 percent on Friday, ending around 3 percent lower on the week as concerns over global demand growth after weak U.S. manufacturing data overshadowed OPEC-led supply cuts and sanctions on Venezuela and Iran.

FILE PHOTO: A pump jack is seen at sunrise near Bakersfield, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

After strengthening early in the session to over a three-month high, U.S. crude futures turned sharply lower on demand worries. The ISM manufacturing activity index in February sank to the lowest since November 2016, and was below expectations.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) futures fell $1.42, or 2.5 percent, to settle at $55.80 per barrel, after hitting $57.88, its highest since mid-November.

Global benchmark Brent crude futures for May settled $1.24, or 1.9 percent, lower at $65.07 a barrel.

Despite hitting their highest levels since mid-November this week, Brent futures ended the week 3.3 percent lower and WTI dropped 2.7 percent.

“We have been the island of prosperity, globally, so if the economic slowdown is coming our way that is bad news for oil prices,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “We were up all morning until that data hit,” he said.

The data sent a strong message to a market that has been looking for direction, said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

“I think the market is nervous, and when they got the data, they reacted,” he said.

The data compounded worries that demand is falling globally.

A Reuters poll showed analysts have grown more pessimistic over the prospects for a significant price rally this year, global fuel consumption is expected to dip this year in the face of a broad economic slowdown.

China’s February factory activity fell for a third month as the world’s second-largest economy continued to struggle with weak export orders, a private survey showed on Friday.

The weakness is also being felt across the wider region. South Korea’s exports contracted at their steepest pace in nearly three years in February as demand from China cooled further.

Despite this, fuel consumption, especially in Asia’s developing economies which are key drivers of global oil demand, is so far holding up.

India’s diesel consumption, for example, is expected to rise to a record this year amid economic growth of around 7 percent.

Potential demand declines could offset producers’ efforts to curb a global supply glut.

The 14-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped 30.68 million barrels per day (bpd) in February, a Reuters survey showed, down 300,000 bpd from January and the lowest OPEC total since 2015.

In Venezuela, oil exports have plunged 40 percent to around 920,000 bpd since the U.S. government slapped sanctions on its petroleum industry on Jan. 28.

OPEC, of which Venezuela is a founding member, is leading efforts to withhold around 1.2 million bpd of supply from the market to prop up prices. Venezuela is exempt from the cuts.

The fall in OPEC production comes at a time when the United States is pumping oil at record rates, with the latest data showing production hit an all-time high for the second week in a row.

However, U.S. energy firms this week cut the number of oil rigs operating to the lowest in almost nine months as some producers follow through on plans to cut spending despite an over 20-percent increase crude futures so far this year.

Drillers cut 10 oil rigs in the week to March 1, bringing the total count down to 843, the lowest since May 2018, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.

Canada’s main oil-producing province of Alberta on Thursday raised the amount of crude that companies can produce in April to 3.66 million bpd, an increase of 100,000 bpd from the limit imposed in January.

Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein, Koustav Samanta and Roslan Khasawneh in SINGAPORE and Ahmad Gaddar in London; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jan Harvey

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