Oil prices were steady early on Thursday after U.S. crude and refined product stocks sent mixed messages to the market, with ongoing uncertainty over OPEC compliance with planned output reductions also in focus.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were trading at $52.24 a barrel at 0040 GMT, virtually unchanged from their last settlement.
Prices for Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were yet to trade.
Traders said that a crude oil and refined product inventory report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration late on Wednesday had sent mixed messages to the market.
While an unexpectedly strong rise in crude inventories by 4.1 million barrels to 483.11 million barrels implied an ongoing supply overhang, record U.S. refinery runs of 17.1 million barrels per day (bpd), up 418,000 bpd on the week, indicated ongoing strong demand.
“EIA data showed U.S. refineries increased the amount of crude they processed, pushing the utilisation rate to the highest since September. This saw inventories rise … much more than the market expected,” ANZ bank said.
Outside the United States, emerging detail of Saudi supply cuts as parts of efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers like Russia to curb the global supply glut started to emerge.
Despite some February supply reductions to China, India and Malaysia, top crude exporter Saudi Arabia is likely to focus its cuts on Europe and the United States, shielding its biggest customers in Asia.
But in an indicator that there is still plentiful supply available despite the cuts, traders are ceasing the opportunity of higher crude prices following OPEC’s decision to cut output to send record volumes of 22 million barrels of surplus European and Azerbaijani oil to Asia.