Wires

UPDATE 2-Oil prices slip but on track for biggest yearly rise since 2016

Jane Chung

* Brent futures down 0.2%, WTI down 0.3%

* Benchmarks on track for biggest annual gain in 3 years

* U.S. crude stocks likely fell 3.2 mln bbls last week -poll (Updates prices)

SEOUL, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on the final day of the year on Tuesday, heading for their biggest annual rise since 2016, supported by a thaw in the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute and supply cuts.

Brent crude futures for March delivery, the new front month contract, were at $66.52 a barrel, down 15 cents, or 0.2%, by 0716 GMT. Brent for February delivery closed on Monday at $68.44 a barrel.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for February was down 19 cents, or 0.3%, at $61.49 per barrel.

Brent has gained about 24% in 2019 and WTI has risen 35%. Both benchmarks are set for their biggest yearly gains in three years, backed by a breakthrough in U.S.-China trade talks and output cuts pledged by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies.

The White House's trade adviser said on Monday that the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week.

"Oil prices have followed the general de-risking drift into year-end despite a rise in Middle East tensions and last week's bullish-for-oil-price inventory draws as the broader markets appear to be losing some of that holiday cheer," said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader.

Tensions remain high in the Middle East after U.S. air strikes on Sunday against the Katib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria. Operations at Iraq's Nassiriya oilfield resumed on Monday after protesters briefly halted production.

Looking ahead, U.S. crude inventories are expected to fall by about 3.2 million barrels in the week to Dec. 27, potentially its third consecutive weekly decline, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday. U.S. stockpiles fell by 5.5 million barrels in the week to Dec. 20. The figures will be released on Friday.

Innes said traders would also closely watch the EIA's U.S. crude production figures for October, set to come out later on Tuesday.

"It's expected to show robust continuous growth in the agency's short-term outlook," he said.

The United States is on track to become a net petroleum exporter on an annual basis for the first time in 2020, with output expected to rise by 930,000 barrels per day (bpd) to a record 13.18 million bpd next year, the EIA said earlier this month.

Brokers and analysts expect growing U.S. supplies to offset cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2020 amid sluggish worldwide demand, weighing on oil prices.

"Oil prices, though largely expected to trade positive, will face headwinds from subdued global growth momentum and robust U.S. shale output levels in the first quarter," said Benjamin Lu, analyst at Singapore-based brokerage Phillip Futures.

(Reporting By Jane Chung; editing by Kim Coghill and Christian Schmollinger)