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Oil climbs as market seen in balance, but slow demand weighs

Oil prices rose on Monday following comments from the Saudi energy minister that the market was heading towards balance, although signs of slowing demand in Asia weighed.

Brent crude futures were trading at $50.58 per barrel at 0938 GMT, up 23 cents from their last settlement. U.S. crude was up 17 cents at $49.16.

U.S. markets are closed on Monday for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

The energy minister of Saudi Arabia, the world's top crude exporter, and the secretary general of producer club OPEC agreed that global oil markets were heading towards balance, and that prices reflect this.

Gas cheap as oil moves higher

However, analysts at Morgan Stanley said there were also signs that prices could fall again soon, pointing at stalling gasoline demand and improving output in Canada and Nigeria.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation said last week that output was rising following repairs after attacks in the Niger Delta that had pushed Nigeria's crude output to 30-year lows.

A deal to unify Libya's rival national oil corporations could pave the way for the OPEC member to boost output which currently stands at less than a quarter of pre-2011 levels of 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd).

Oil demand and as a result prices could come under pressure as weak margins prompt run cuts at a time when refineries in Asia are already gearing up to enter their maintenance season.

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"After another counterseasonal summer build, gasoline cracks now trade below diesel, which should force refiners to act ... The end result is likely to be run cuts, with some signs already emerging for 3Q," Morgan Stanley analysts said on Monday.

"Asia refiners have already started to pull back ... and there are reports of cargoes struggling to sell," they added.

Investors are also watching the outlook for U.S. production, with drillers last week adding oil rigs for a fourth week in five, in the best month of producers returning to the well pad since August 2015.

Russian oil output in June rose slightly from the previous month to 10.84 million bpd.

In Norway, oil workers signed a deal on Saturday, avoiding a strike in western Europe's top oil producer.