OIL PRICES: ABOVE $54 AGAIN
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG - Oil prices fell on Thursday as record U.S. crude inventories underscored that markets remain bloated, although traders said there were signs that other regions were gradually tightening.
Brent crude futures were at $54.20 per barrel at 0708 GMT, down 16 cents, or 0.28 percent, from their last close.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 18 cents, or 0.35 percent, at $50.97 a barrel.
Traders said the declines were due to rising U.S. crude production that bolstered inventories to record levels.
U.S. fuel inventories and oil production levels are key to whether the United States remains the world's biggest oil importer, helping to support prices, or if soaring output and large stocks cut imports, which would weigh on oil markets.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported an increase of 1.57 million barrels in crude inventories late on Wednesday, bringing total U.S. stocks to a record of 535.5 million barrels.
"Overnight crude inventory numbers pulled the rug out from under the feet of the oil rally," said Jeffrey Halley, senior analyst at futures brokerage OANDA.
The record crude inventories came as U.S. oil production rose 52,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 9.2 million bpd, a more than 9 percent increase since mid-2016 to levels last seen at the start of the market slump in late 2014 and early 2015.
Within the U.S. crude inventories, stocks at Cushing, the delivery hub for WTI, rose 1.4 million barrels to a record 69.1 million barrels. Rising stocks at Cushing, in Oklahoma, typically tend to depress the price of the U.S. benchmark.
Cushing crude tank farms have a total storage capacity of 77 million barrels, said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.
Because of the glut, U.S. crude exports have soared to a record 1.1 million bpd, with most cargoes going to Asia, where traders say there are early signs of a tightening market due to efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut output in an effort to prop up prices.
"The global picture is more important (than just the U.S.) and stocks are being drawn," said Oystein Berentsen, managing director at oil trading company Strong Petroleum in Singapore.
In the short-term, he said, a lot of oil was being sold out of storage around the world, adding to the imminent glut.
But Berentsen warned that once a significant amount of crude had been sold out of inventories, "then you get the full effect (of tighter supplies)."