Oil prices claw back some ground, but demand worries drag

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

Analysts warned that oil prices could hit fresh highs after Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the world's busiest oil shipping lane, in response to USA sanctions.

The U.S. led the world in oil production for much of the last century until the Soviet Union and later Saudi Arabia passed it during the 1970s.

Saudi Arabia and OPEC partnered with Russian Federation and other producers beginning in 2017 to prop up prices by cutting production.

Prices began to retreat on Thursday after the International Energy Agency that said global oil supply hit a record high in August despite lower production from Iran and Venezuela. From August 6, Washington re-introduced some of the financial sanctions while the sanctions affecting the petroleum sector of Iran will kick off from November 4.

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The build-up in Iranian oil supplies underscores the pressure that Iran is facing as Washington aims to bring Iranian oil exports down to zero to force Tehran to re-negotiate a nuclear deal.

Still, the IEA remained cautious in its report, stating that "We are entering a very crucial period for the oil market".

In defiance of warnings from the European Union, the JCPOA signatories and many worldwide players, Trump signed an executive order on August 6 re-imposing a first round of sanctions on Iran, which were lifted under the nuclear deal, to levy "maximum economic pressure" on the Islamic Republic.

Traders said a rally on Friday was sparked by reports Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was going to give a press conference on new sanctions on Iran.

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Benchmark Brent crude was up 16 cents or 0.2 percent at $78.34 a barrel after falling 2 percent on Thursday.

Under the United States pressure to lower oil prices, the OPEC and its allies agreed in June to boost production, having participated in a supply-cutting deal in place since 2017.

Although the EIA does not publish crude production forecasts for Russia and Saudi Arabia in its short term outlook, it expects that USA output will continue to exceed Russian and Saudi production for the remaining months of 2018 and through 2019. Saudi Arabia's oil production could rise to the level of 11 million barrels per day if the demand sustains.

That setup is similar to the early 2000s, when production issues in OPEC countries raised questions about whether Saudi Arabia had enough spare capacity to meet rising demand. That quintet together accounts for less than 1 percent of the roughly 99 million barrels per day of global oil production.

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Iran was exporting 2.7 million barrels of oil per day in May, but that has already fallen to 2.1 million.

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