US crude rises 1.1%, settling at $53.69, boosted by concerns over Venezuelan crisis

Key Points
  • Turmoil in Venezuela sparks fear of U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil trade and tighter global supply.
  • Oil prices face pressure from ongoing concerns about U.S.-China trade talks.
  • U.S. fuel stockpiles are swelling, and crude inventories rose by 8 million barrels last week.
Andrew Burton | Getty Images

Oil prices rose on Friday as political turmoil in Venezuela threatened to tighten crude supply, but concerns over surging U.S. fuel stocks and global economic woes weighed on sentiment.

The United States signaled on Thursday it may impose sanctions on Venezuelan exports after recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president this week, prompting President Nicholas Maduro to cut ties with Washington.

But the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute and broader gloom over world economic growth put a check on prices.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures ended Friday's session 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, higher at $53.69 per barrel. WTI fell about 0.2 percent for the week, the first weekly decline in four weeks.

Brent crude oil futures were up 61 cents, or 1 percent, at $61.70 a barrel around 2:20 p.m. ET. Brent has shed about 1.6 percent since Monday and was also on track for its first week of losses in four weeks.

RBC Capital Markets predicted that U.S. sanctions could nearly double projected output shortfalls from Venezuela.

"Venezuelan production will decline by an additional 300,000-500,000 barrels per day this year, but such punitive measures could expand that outage by several hundred thousand barrels," it said.

Still, some analysts said the possibility of immediate sanctions were unlikely.

"We view a blockade on Venezuelan imports as low probability and a last resort measure that is likely weeks if not months away should it materialize," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note.

"The evolving situation in Venezuela appears capable of delaying our expected test of $50 support."

Global oil markets are still well supplied, however, thanks in part to a spike in U.S. output.

US sanctions on Venezuela could affect oil exports worldwide, says Again Capital's Kilduff
US sanctions on Venezuela could affect oil exports worldwide, says Again Capital's Kilduff

Record U.S. production would likely offset any short-term disruptions to Venezuelan supply due to possible U.S. sanctions, Britain's Barclays said in a note. The bank cut its 2019 average Brent forecast to $70 a barrel, from $72 previously.

The output surge has swollen U.S. fuel stocks, and crude inventories rose by 8 million barrels last week, according to official data released on Thursday.

Companies added 10 oil rigs in the week to Jan. 25, bringing the total count to 862, Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.

Refining profits for gasoline are crashing around the world as consumption stalls amid a huge wave of new supplies, resulting in record inventories in Asia, America and Europe.

In the U.S. market, gasoline margins sank to $5.70 per barrel on Thursday, the lowest seasonally since 2009, weighed down by weak demand for the fuel and excess supply.

Oil more likely to hit $90 than $40, Crescent Petroleum CEO says
Oil more likely to hit $90 than $40, Crescent Petroleum CEO says

Analysts have predicted a more balanced market due to a production cut pact by OPEC and its allies including Russia, as well as potential export disruptions in Venezuela, Iran and Libya.

"While the current state of affairs is price constructive for oil, the market is hesitant when it comes to the global outlook," Harry Tchilinguirian, global head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.

Demand may start to stutter because of a global economic slowdown, which is likely to dent fuel consumption.

A trade dispute between the United States and China and tightening financial conditions around the world have hurt manufacturing activity in most economies, including in China, where growth last year was the weakest in nearly 30 years.

According to Reuters polls of hundreds of economists worldwide, a synchronized global economic slowdown is underway and would deepen if the U.S.-China trade war escalated.

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