Oil prices stable, supported by signs of emerging supply deficit

Market torn between high US oil output and OPEC+ compliance with production cuts

Brent crude hit a four-month peak of $68.14 per barrel before falling to $67.19 by 2:23 p.m. EST (1823 GMT), down 36 cents, from Wednesday's close.

"While oil demand is expected to grow at a moderate pace in 2019, it is still well below the strong growth expected in the non-OPEC supply forecast for this year", OPEC said in the report.

International Brent crude oil futures were at $67.37 USA a barrel, up 70 cents, or 1.1%, from their last close.

OPEC's bearish demand outlook was offset by its apparent resolve to extend crude output cuts, agreed to by its members and allied producers, which have helped oil prices rise more than 20 percent this year.

Crude inventories dropped by 3.9 million barrels in the last week, to 449.07 million barrels, compared with analyst expectations for an increase of 2.7 million barrels. "It looks very supportive as refiners come out of maintenance".

In the Middle East, the United States aims to cut Iran's crude exports by about 20 percent to below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from May by requiring importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid USA sanctions, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Most of the reduction in U.S. imports was of light, sweet crude oil, as those barrels were replaced by domestic production of a similar quality. The EIA also revised down its projected 2020 production figure.

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The terminal resumed operations by Wednesday, according to two sources and Refinitiv Eikon data, but shipments have not started up.

On the imports side, EIA said that most of the reduction in US petroleum imports was of light, sweet crude oil, as those barrels were replaced by domestic production of a similar quality.

While Saudi Arabia kept production even lower than required by the deal, the largest drop from January's rate occurred in Venezuela, whose exports have been disrupted by US sanctions.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih suggested last month that he favored maintaining output curbs when asked to comment on U.S. President Donald Trump's tweet on February 25 demanding OPEC to "relax" its stance on tightening supplies.

Crude oil use in China, the world's biggest importer, in the first two months of 2019 rose 6.1 percent from a year earlier to a record 12.68 million bpd, official data showed this week.

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