US crude oil surges 7%, has highest settlement of 2015

Oil rallied for a third straight day on Tuesday as bulls convinced the market had hit bottom after a seven-month rout pounced on a weak dollar and cuts in oil firms' spending plans despite signs crude stocks were rising without let up.

U.S. crude closed up $3.48, or 7 percent, at $53.05 per barrel, marking its highest settlement this year. WTI crude rose as much as 9.4 percent earlier to a session high of $54.24.

Benchmark Brent crude oil was last up $3 at $58 a barrel.

US. crude prices have gained about 20 percent since the market was jolted by news on Friday that the number of U.S. oil drilling rigs had fallen their most in a week in nearly 30 years after the 60 percent selloff that began last summer.

The dollar dropped to a more than one-week low against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, making dollar-priced commodities a more attractive buy.

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BP's announcement that it would cut capital expenditure by 13 percent to $20 billion in 2015, adding to reductions planned by other major energy companies, also fueled the perception that the global glut in oil supply may be overcome faster than thought.

"You've got a number of themes working to push the market higher," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

But signs of another big build in U.S. crude stockpiles last week made others pessimistic that the selloff was over.

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U.S. commercial crude oil and gasoline stockpiles likely rose about 4 million barrels in the week ended Jan. 30, even as distillate inventories fell, a preliminary Reuters survey showed on Monday. The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release the inventory data on Wednesday.

Adding to the bearish case on crude, a U.S. refineries strike stretched into a third day after talks on a new national contract broke down.

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"It needs to get worse here in terms of productive capacity actually going offline," said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. "Also, the capex cuts announced by the respective oil firms are just plans that can be reversed when prices began a steady recovery, so the desired production cuts may not fully materialize."

Analysts at Morgan Stanley added that the relationship between rig count and production can be deceptive.

"Headline rig count declines may look impressive, but as we look at the data, much of the drop in oil rig count has come in low yielding vertical or directional rigs, i.e. the low-hanging fruit," they said.