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Oil hits a low as US fuel stock build signals easing demand

Oil fell two per cent to its lowest in more than two weeks yesterday after a sharp rise in US inventories of refined fuel suggested demand may be flagging, while crude production hit another weekly record.

Government data showed US crude stocks fell 5.6 million barrels, more than expected, which was partially the result of the closure of the Keystone pipeline after a leak in South Dakota in mid-November that cut flows to Cushing, Oklahoma. That line reopened Tuesday.

However, gasoline stocks rose by 6.8 million barrels and distillate inventories were up 1.7 million barrels, both exceeding expectations in a Reuters poll. That hit prices of both crude and products in a market which is already heavily tilted bullish and thus potentially vulnerable to a selloff, analysts said.

Gasoline stocks tend to build in December, but at 221 million barrels of inventory, stocks are slightly above the five-year average for this time of year. “Gasoline inventories are also now building as demand eases back even in the face of decent export numbers... Gasoline futures have clearly broken technical support levels and ULSD [diesel] futures are testing them,” said David Thompson, executive vice president at Powerhouse, a Washington-based, energy-specialised commodities broker.

US crude production rose to 9.7 million barrels per day, another weekly record, though short of all-time records reached in the 1970s. That increase may undermine efforts by global producers to cut supply. Supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers that were extended at a meeting last week for all of 2018 have helped lift Brent prices by more than 40 per cent since June.

Prices have slipped from November’s peak, which represented two-year highs. “The sentiment-driven support to crude oil prices has somewhat dissipated as market participants look beyond last week's OPEC meeting,” Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy’s Global Gas Analytics in London, said.

Brent crude futures were down $1.31, or 2.1 per cent, at $61.55 a barrel by 12.43pm EST (1743 GMT), after reaching a session low of $61.36, the lowest since November 17. US crude futures dropped $1.37, or 2.4 per cent, to $56.25 after falling to as low as $56.12, the lowest since November 20.

Russian Oil Minister Alexander Novak said it was too early to talk about exiting the OPEC agreement and the process would be gradual. Analysts such as Goldman Sachs have said the expected rise in dem-and in 2018 would mostly be offset by US and Canadian supply growth.

“With US production, we’re still in the throes of seeing that go ever higher. There's only going to be more production coming which is very problematic for OPEC non-OPEC deal adherence,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York.

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