US crude sinks 1.4%, settling at $50.60, after bearish outlook from International Energy Agency

Key Points
  • U.S. crude stocks fell by 2.8 million barrels to 462.2 million barrels in the week through Oct. 6, the Energy Information Administration reported.
  • OPEC and other oil exporters are expected to extend production cuts beyond March 2018.
  • Goldman Sachs says stock draws have peaked this year and it expects Brent crude to average$58 a barrel in 2018.
A pump jack and pipes at an oil field near Bakersfield, California.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Oil prices pared losses on Thursday after the Energy Department reported a larger-than-expected decline in U.S. inventories and a falloff in weekly production.

The market was still under pressure, though, from a bearish outlook by the International Energy Agency, which lowered its forecast for oil demand for 2018.

Oil has strengthened in recent weeks due to a sharp drawdown in distillates, feeding expectations for renewed demand, but it is unclear whether U.S. crude prices will regain the high of nearly $53 a barrel reached in late September.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures ended Thursday's session down 70 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $50.60 per barrel. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were down 62 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $56.32 by 2:24 p.m.

Both contracts have rallied in the last three sessions following last week's sharp losses.

Expect oil prices to remain supported in the fourth quarter: UBS
Expect oil prices to remain supported in the fourth quarter: UBS

U.S. commercial crude inventories fell by 2.8 million barrels to 462.2 million barrels in the week through Oct. 6, the Energy Information Administration reported. The American Petroleum Institute had reported on Wednesday that stocks rose by 3.1 million barrels.

Gasoline stocks rose by 2.5 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 480,000-barrel drop. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 1.5 million barrels, versus expectations for a 2.2 million-barrel decline, the EIA data showed.

The International Energy Agency said on Thursday demand for OPEC oil would be 32.5 million bpd next year — around 150,000 bpd lower than the group pumped last month.

Carsten Fritsch, commodities analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said the tone of the IEA report was bearish because it suggested that demand for OPEC crude next year would not be sufficient to absorb all the available supplies.

"This means OPEC must deepen its production cuts to finish its job of bringing oil stocks back to the five-year average," Fritsch said.

U.S. crude inventories are still 13 percent above five-year averages headed into the busy winter season, despite efforts by OPEC to cut production.

The OPEC-led deal helped lift oil from below $30 a barrel early last year. But traders say supplies remain ample and OPEC is widely expected to extend its cuts beyond the current expiry date of end-March 2018.

IEA: Oil ‘heavyweights’ committed to OPEC deal
IEA: Oil ‘heavyweights’ committed to OPEC deal

"There is little doubt that leading producers have re-committed to do whatever it takes to underpin the market," the IEA said in a report on Thursday.

High U.S. production is pushing increasing volumes of U.S. crude into world markets, feeding inventories and undermining OPEC's efforts to tighten the market. U.S. exports fell in the most recent week to 1.27 million bpd, but U.S. exports have still exceeded 1 million barrels a day for three straight weeks, the first time this has happened.

Traders have expressed concerns of late that the United States will at some point reach its export capacity, though that has not been hit yet.

"Additional U.S. supplies will weigh on Brent prices, and this will also encourage more production in the U.S.," said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energys Global Gas Analytics in London.

Many analysts expect Brent to stay between $50 and $60 a barrel as long as global markets stay balanced. The U.S. bank said oil supply and demand fundamentals meant it expected Brent to average $58 a barrel in 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to disavow a nuclear agreement with Iran less than two years after the accord lifted sanctions under a 2015 deal between Tehran and leading world powers following Iran's agreement to suspend its nuclear program.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.