Oil prices firm, on track for biggest gain in five weeks

Based on the lower USA inventories and the expectation of an extended production cut, this week has seen the market stabilize, including a recovery of Brent back above $50 per barrel, following steep price falls last week.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at 48.01 dollars per barrel, up 18 cents, or 0.38 per cent.

Shortly before oil producers agreed in principle last September to stabilize the market, OPEC's analysts saw production outside of the cartel dropping by around 100,000 barrels a day in 2017.

OPEC claims raising global oil prices will "require the collective efforts of all oil producers" and should be done "not only for the benefit of the individual countries, but also for the general prosperity of the world economy".

"Owing to the rapid recovery in USA oil production, OPEC obviously only has limited influence on prices via supply curbs", it said, adding an extension "is unlikely to be more successful than the cuts implemented so far in the longer-term". The market is largely expecting a rollover until the end of the year, and Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih has even hinted at extending the deal into early 2018.

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Oil fell as investors focus on all the production that OPEC can do nothing about. US light crude oil CLc1 was down 29 cents at $47.54. But Tehran surprised global markets by boosting production at faster pace than most analysts had forecast after sanctions were lifted past year.

That may not be reflected in prices, which are barely 4% higher than last September, just before the coalition laid the groundwork for its deal to reduce production. OPEC members made clear at the time that it wanted prices higher but not above $60 a barrel because the low-60s is where US shale would become competitive again. A lack of infrastructure limits its exports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

OPEC and allied producers agreed in November to slash production, a move created to rid global markets of excess supply.

The only good thing for oil prices to change its course now is the summer driving season in the United States which would result in incremental demand for gasoline and in turn the reduction in oil inventories.

US output, excluding Alaska, would expand 390,000 bpd from May 2017 to December 2017, assuming a USA light crude price of $50, they said. By cutting costs and boosting efficiencies, USA shale has made itself capable of profitably producing $50 per barrel oil.

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