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Oil futures jump on output freeze hopes; glut hurts physical prices

An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Cullen | Reuters
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.

Crude futures jumped on Wednesday as hopes for an agreement among exporters to freeze output underpinned the market, although a persistent global oversupply and Iran's plans to boost production pressured physical oil prices.

Oil futures recovered from one-month lows to end up in the previous session after the Kuwaiti governor for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nawal Al-Fuzaia, said there were "positive indications an agreement will be reached" on output during a producer meeting scheduled for April 17 in Qatar.

U.S. crude futures jumped around a dollar, or 2.8 percent, to $36.87 per barrel at 0419 GMT. International Brent futures rose 1.8 percent at $38.55 a barrel.

"Oil (futures) gained some momentum. The comment by the Kuwait OPEC governor provided some support to prices," ANZ bank said, but warned that investors would likely remain cautious ahead of the April 17 meeting.

An initial output freeze agreed in February has helped oil prices rise to almost $38 a barrel from a 12-year low close to $27 plumbed earlier this year.

However, prices have fallen in recent days on doubts that a wider deal will be reached, largely because Iran has so far said it has no intention of slowing its production after crippling sanctions against it were lifted in January.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said the country's crude output would reach 4 million barrels per day (bpd) by March 2017, state television reported on Wednesday, with plans to export 2.25 million bpd of those supplies.

That would be up from a little over 1 million bpd under the sanctions and only slightly below pre-sanctions peaks of 2.5 million bpd.

With Iran's exports rising and other producers pledging to freeze production near record-high levels, an agreement would do little to address a global supply overhang that sees at least a million barrels of crude produced every day in excess of demand.

The ample supplies were reflected in physical markets, with Abu Dhabi cutting its March retroactive official selling price (OSP) premium over benchmark Dubai crudes by 64 cents to $3.06 per barrel.

This followed top exporter Saudi Arabia lowering its May Arab Light crude OSP by 10 cents per barrel to a discount of $0.85 per barrel to the Dubai average.

"We do not rule out additional (oil price) weakness in Q216 before renewed gains later in the year, as a rapid shift in bullish speculative sentiment has outpaced fundamental tightening of the physical market," BMI Research said.