Oil prices were little changed on Friday and looked set to finish the week with a modest gain after losing almost 10 percent last week on concerns that an OPEC production cut was failing to reduce a global supply overhang.
Crude traded in a narrow band this week, with Brent and West Texas Intermediate bouncing in a $2.5 range as investors weighed the impact of the first oil cut from OPEC in eight years against rising U.S. shale oil output and high inventories.
“The market remains relatively calm today with concerns about having to extend the production cut deal being offset by a weaker dollar,” said Saxo Bank head of commodity strategy Ole Hansen.
Oil found some support from dollar weakness after the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated it would not accelerate plans for rises in interest rates.
Investors got more direction on Friday. The Baker Hughes weekly rig count rose by 14 oil rigs to a total of 631, continuing a recovery that began in June. At this time last year, drillers were operating 387 oil rigs in U.S. fields.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission releases calculations of net long and short positions in the crude futures market on Friday.
Oil prices fell sharply last week on concerns that OPEC-led production cuts were not reducing the global supply overhang as quickly as expected in the face of increased U.S. output.
Investors took some comfort from a dip in U.S. stockpiles in the week to March 10, after nine weekly rises. However, the fall in U.S. inventories was a modest 237,000 barrels, leaving 528 million barrels in storage, close to record highs.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Thursday oil output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers could be extended beyond June if oil stocks stayed above a long-term average.
But analysts said the comments gave limited support because Riyadh has said it needs cooperation to rebalance the market and non-OPEC producers, such as Russia, have yet to deliver fully on reduction commitments in the first half of 2017.
On Thursday, Falih told CNBC there is a learning curve to cutting production, and Riyadh wants exporters to accelerate their learning and “get on board fully.”
Saudi Arabia has cut output by more than its share under the November 2016 deal. Some ask whether Riyadh has the appetite to continue while several OPEC and non-OPEC states fail to comply.
“While OPEC has shown more cohesion than we expected, the problem has always been that free-riders benefit most from OPEC cuts, which makes the deal inherently unstable,” Dan Smith of Oxford Economics said in a note to clients.
“Saudi Arabia is not prepared to shoulder all of the burden of rebalancing the oil market and if others fail to cooperate then it may prove to be difficult for OPEC to extend cutbacks beyond the middle of this year.”
OPEC and non-OPEC members reached agreement last year to cut output by a combined 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first half of 2017.
But OPEC’s monthly report showed global oil inventories rose in January to 278 million barrels above the five-year average.
In a further sign that OPEC’s efforts have had little impact so far, oil shipments to Asia have increased 3 percent since the OPEC supply cut deal was made.
— CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher contributed to this story.