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Oil at fresh highs on Saudi seeking price hike, US stocks draw

An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Cullen | Reuters
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.
  • Saudi Arabia seen seeking oil price of $80-$100 per barrel
  • Market also expects renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran
  • U.S. commercial crude stocks decline towards 5-year average
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.
Andrew Cullen | Reuters
An oil pumpjack operates near Williston, North Dakota.

Oil prices rose on Thursday to their highest since late 2014 as U.S. crude inventories declined, moving closer to five-year averages, and after sources told Reuters top exporter Saudi Arabia is seeking to push oil prices higher.

Brent crude oil futures rallied as high as $74.44 a barrel, the strongest since Nov. 27, 2014, the day that OPEC decided to pump as much as it could to defend market share, sending the price to a low of $27 just over a year later.

Brent futures were at $74.35 per barrel at 0823 GMT, up 87 cents from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 71 cents to $69.18 a barrel. WTI had earlier hit $69.27, its best level since Dec. 2, 2014.

"Oil prices continued to climb on Thursday as a decline in U.S. crude inventories and commentary from Saudi Arabia that it would be happy to see crude rise to $80 or even $100 helped boost prices," RBC said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers including Russia started to withhold output in 2017 to rein in oversupply that had depressed prices since 2014.

OPEC and its partners will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 20. OPEC will then meet on June 22 to review its oil production policy.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that top oil exporter Saudi Arabia would be happy to see crude rise to $80 or even $100 a barrel, which was seen as a sign that Riyadh will seek no changes to the supply-cutting deal.

"The Saudis and their colleagues in OPEC need higher oil for their fiscal positions and the Kingdom is on a bold - and costly - reform programme. So they might continue to squeeze the lemon while they have the chance," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.

Since the start of the supply cuts, crude inventories have gradually declined from record levels towards long-term average levels.

In the United States, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday that commercial crude stocks fell by 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 13, to 427.57 million barrels, close to the five-year average level of around 420 million barrels.

Further supporting oil prices is an expectation that the United States will re-introduce sanctions against Iran, OPEC's third-largest producer, which could result in further supply reductions from the Middle East.