The one report for markets Friday

Bubbling oil prices — up 23 percent in 15 days — will be a focus Friday as traders watch the latest U.S. rig count data for more signs that U.S. production could pick up with rising crude prices.

The rapid rise in oil prices defies many analysts' expectations, but it has been driven in part by comments from OPEC members and other producers about a meeting in late September that could involve discussion on freezing production or other actions.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures on Thursday finished up 3 percent at $48.22 after touching a session high of $48.38, the highest since July 5. Stocks have been supported by the gains in oil, but the market was flattish Thursday. The S&P 500 rose 4 points to 2,187.

Oil worker working on an oil rig
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Oil worker working on an oil rig

"We're pricing a more constructive market. We think the price is about right now," said Edward Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup. Morse said he believes the market is rebalancing, meaning demand is more in line with supply after a massive global oil glut.

"There really is a finely balanced market, with historically untested swing capacity of the U.S. producers really now being tested for the first time," Morse said. There was a pickup in U.S. production last week of about 150,000 barrels a day, the largest weekly increase in 17 months, but production is still about a million barrels a day below last year's level.

Baker Hughes' rig count is expected at 1 p.m. EDT Friday. Drillers have added rigs in each of the last seven weekly reports, with 15 added in the week of Aug. 12. More are expected this week. According to Reuters, that is the longest streak of positive rig growth since April 2014. Drillers have added 66 oil rigs since July 1, for a total last week of 396, well below the 672 a year ago.

Morse said while the OPEC talk is helping lift oil prices to a level he sees as reasonable, he does not expect the cartel to take any action. "It's a market misreading what's going to happen or not happen," he said.

OPEC in November 2014 pursued a strategy of letting the market set prices, and that drove U.S. crude prices sharply lower to a bottom in the $20s per barrel this past February. During that shakeout, a number of producing nations continued to increase output, but the industry in North America actually cut back after an initial surge.

New longs have been flooding the oil market but that does not mean the shorts, at record highs this month, are leaving. "The market is certainly talking out of both sides of its mouth," Morse said.

The bullish argument is that some producers, like Iraq and Iran, are getting close to the limit of what they can produce. Libya is expected to bring some oil back on line, while Nigeria still has many barrels shut in. Venezuela could also see production decline. That leaves the U.S. shale producers as one wild card.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, pumped a record 10.7 million barrels a day in July and says it can do more, though it is viewed as being close to its peak. New data was released for June, showing it was able to export 7.5 million barrels a day, the highest level for a month of June since 2012.

"The forward [futures] curve is saying the price of oil is going to be in the low $50s next year, and we think it's going to be in the high $60s. At the end of this year, it should be sitting in a $50 range," he said.

The oil glut has led to a glut in refined products like gasoline and diesel fuel.

Oil analysts have been expecting the product glut to add to an already-anticipated dip in oil prices as refineries undergo seasonal maintenance, usually between late August and October. The demand for oil drops at that time, and so can the price.

But Morse said the flooding in the Gulf Coast, which seems to have affected some operations at ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge refinery and others, could have helped that situation.

"It should help accelerate the rebalancing of the gasoline market," he said.