OIL PRICES: ABOVE $57
REUTERS - Oil prices are on track for their biggest annual percentage gain since 2009 on the back of an agreement struck between OPEC and non-OPEC countries to cut crude production output.
U.S. benchmark West Texas intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 23 cents to $54.00 at 0746 GMT. Brent front-month March crude oil futures rose 31 cents to $57.16.
Brent futures have risen about 53 percent this year while WTI futures have climbed around 46 percent. The 2016 gains in the oil market were the best since the 2009 rally, when Brent and WTI rose 78 percent and 71 percent respectively.
In a sign that producers are adhering to an agreed production cut, Oman notified some of its term customers that it will cut term allocations by 5 percent in March, but did not state if the reduction in supply would continue after that.
The market also shrugged off an unexpected increase in U.S. crude inventories, which rose 614,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 23, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed. Analysts had expected a decrease of 2.1 million barrels in the period.
Still, the rise in crude stocks in the EIA data was significantly smaller than in Wednesday's American Petroleum Institute (API) data that indicated a 4.2 million barrel build in U.S. crude oil stocks in the same period.
"Today's Department of Energy report was positive for light products due to draws in gasoline and distillate inventories compared to consensus' build expectations," British bank Barclays said in a note.
Gasoline stocks fell 1.6 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.3 million-barrel rise.
The market is likely to have focused on the surprise draw in product stocks and taken a slightly more bullish view towards the WTI contract, traders said.
Oil prices will gradually rise towards $60 per barrel by the end of 2017, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday, with further upside capped by a strong dollar, a likely recovery in U.S. oil output and possible non-compliance by OPEC with agreed cuts.
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BP and its partners in Azerbaijan's giant ACG oil production complex agreed Thursday to extend the production sharing contract by 25 years to 2049 and to increase the stake of state-owned SOCAR, reducing the size of their own shares.
The U.S. current-account deficit increased to $123.1 billion (preliminary) in the second quarter of 2017 from $113.5 billion (revised) in the first quarter of 2017, according to statistics released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The deficit increased to 2.6 percent of current-dollar gross domestic product (GDP) from 2.4 percent in the first quarter.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were trading up 41 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $50.30 by 0852 GMT, near the three-month high of $50.50 it reached last Thursday. Brent crude futures LCOc1, the benchmark for oil prices outside the United States, were at $55.91 a barrel, up 29 cents, and also not far from the near five-month high of $55.99 touched on Thursday.
“The principal risk regarding Russian and Chinese activities in Venezuela in the near term is that they will exploit the unfolding crisis, including the effect of US sanctions, to deepen their control over Venezuela’s resources, and their [financial] leverage over the country as an anti-US political and military partner,” observed R. Evan Ellis, a senior associate in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Americas Program.