Oil holds gain as OPEC signal on output cuts counters trade risk

By Tsuyoshi Inajima and Grant Smith on 5/21/2019

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Oil held gains on signs that OPEC and its allies will extend production cuts beyond June, while prices remained capped by worsening trade relations between the U.S. and China.

Futures were little changed in New York after rising 0.5% on Monday. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih urged the OPEC+ coalition to “stay the course” on output limits at a meeting in Jeddah over the weekend. Yemeni rebels backed by Iran said they’d attacked an airport in southern Saudi Arabia, further stoking tensions in the Middle East, while China warned it could retaliate against the U.S. after Washington blacklisted Huawei Technologies Co.

The possible extension of supply curbs by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies could be a catalyst for oil to resume its rally after floundering over the past month. Rising tension in the Middle East and involuntary output cuts from Venezuela to Russia have also been boosting prices, while rising stockpiles in the U.S. and the breakdown in relations between the world’s two biggest economies keeps gains in check.

“OPEC+ is staying on the sidelines for now, reluctant to add significant volumes to markets so long as overall measures of inventories remain apparently adequate,” Citigroup Inc. analysts including Ed Morse wrote in a report. The bank is “cautiously optimistic a trade war today will result in at least an interim trade deal this year” between the U.S. and China.

West Texas Intermediate crude for June delivery, which expires Tuesday, fell 8 cents to $63.02/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 9:12 a.m. local time, after adding 34 cents on Monday. The more actively traded July contract was unchanged at $63.21.

Brent for July settlement increased 14 cents to $72.11/bbl on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, after dropping 24 cents on Monday. The first-month contract is trading at a strong premium to the second, a structure known as backwardation that's an indicator of tight supply. The global crude benchmark traded at a $8.88 premium to WTI for the same month.

Oil ministers from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers said at their meeting over the weekend that they were inclined to extend the production cuts into the second half of 2019. Al-Falih said the kingdom “isn’t fooled” by crude prices and believes the market is still fragile. While suggesting he is open to relaxing the cuts, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said his country would still comply with any agreed output limit until year-end.

Zhang Ming, China’s envoy to the European Union, said U.S. moves against Huawei are “wrong behavior” and an “abuse of export-control measures,” as he warned there would be a “necessary response.” U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “very happy” with the trade war and that China wouldn’t become the world’s top superpower on his watch.

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