- U.S. crude closed above $50 a barrel for the first time in more than two months.
- WTI crude initially turned lower after touching the $50 milestone, but surged into the close of Monday's trading session.
- Traders have been raising their bullish bets on oil in recent weeks.
U.S. crude oil surged into the close of trading to settle above the key psychological level of $50 a barrel.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude ended Monday's session up 46 cents at $50.17, its first close above $50 a barrel since May 24. That pushed WTI's monthly gain to about 9 percent, making July the best month for the commodity since April 2016.
The milestone came after WTI posted its best weekly performance of the year, surging 8.6 percent last week, boosted by a big drop in U.S. crude stockpiles and Saudi Arabia's vow to cut oil exports in August.
U.S. WTI crude intraday
Prices first rose above $50 in overnight trade against the backdrop of U.S. threats to slap sanctions on Venezuela's energy sector after embattled President Nicolas Maduro proceeded with a vote to replace the nation's legislative body. The sanctions are seen as heaping pressure on Venezuelan state energy company PDVSA and potentially reducing the country's oil output even further than it has already fallen throughout a prolonged economic crisis.
OPEC also announced over the weekend that some members of the cartel, including top oil exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia, will meet next week to discuss ways to improve compliance with a deal to limit output among roughly two dozen crude-producing nations.
U.S. shale producers have begun reducing capital spending plans, a positive signal for observers concerned about surging American output weighing on oil prices.
U.S. WTI crude year to date
Some analysts believe oil prices will struggle to rise much above $50 a barrel though, citing a number of technical resistance levels and developments in the physical market.
Still, hedge funds and money managers have begun raising their bets that oil prices will rise in recent weeks. The volume of bullish bets on U.S. crude mostly fell from the end of February through the end of June.