US oil for December delivery settles at $40.39 a barrel, down 0.4%

A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Nick Oxford | Reuters

U.S. crude held support at above $40 a barrel while Brent futures gained about 1 percent.

A firmer dollar had weighed on oil earlier as commodities denominated in the greenback became less affordable to holders of other currencies such as the euro.

U.S. crude futures had also struggled to stay above $40 as worries about large domestic oil stockpiles pressured the market's spot contract ahead of its expiry.

Brent futures were up 40 cents, or 0.88 percent, at $44.57 a barrel.

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U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures for December delivery — which expired Friday —settled down 15 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $40.39 a barrel.

"WTI couldn't convincingly push below $40 despite a few attempts today and that's what probably what led to the late support before contract expiry," said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

"We've also hit technical oversold levels on both Brent and WTI, making the pre-weekend short-covering logical."

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Crude prices were supported as well by the latest weekly reading on the U.S. oil rig count, which showed a drop of 10 rigs this week. The data, compiled by industry firm Baker Hughes, is an indication of U.S. oil production in coming months.

While WTI held above $40, its spot December contract reached a record discount, or contango, of nearly $2 a barrel to nearby January, showing traders' reluctance to bid oil up in the near term. On a continuation-basis, the front-month's discount, or contango, to the second month was the largest since late April.

Brent's rise was partly supported by a larger premium for the global crude benchmark versus WTI. U.S. crude has weakened in four straight sessions against Brent.

WTI's contango blew out in recent weeks, coinciding with the spike in the number of barrels of U.S. crude being stored, as traders saw more benefit of buying into oil meant for later shipment due to weak spot prices. Government data on Wednesday showed an eighth straight week of builds in U.S. crude inventories.