Saudi Arabia may cut February heavy crude prices to Asia - Reuters survey

Oil prices reverse course and trade sharply higher

Oil prices surge 5%

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were at $56.60 per barrel at 0741 GMT, up 65 cents, or 1.2 per cent, from their last close.

The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for February delivery gained 0.55 US dollar to settle at 47.09 dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude for March delivery increased 1.04 dollars to close at 55.95 dollars a barrel on the London ICE Futures Exchange.

Surging shale output has helped make the United States the world's biggest oil producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russian Federation.

OPEC, Russia and other non-members agreed in December to reduce supply by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019. Saudi Arabia shipped 534,000 barrels per day to the United States in December, a near 100,000 bpd drop from November. The Saudis have used the price-boosting strategy in the past to shrink US stockpiles, the most transparent and closely-watched inventories in the world.

"Historically, Saudi Arabia has utilized crude export flows to the United States as a method of signaling the Kingdom's intentions, given the transparency of the USA market", said Reid I'Anson, an energy economist at Kpler.

Investors remain concerned that OPEC+ isn't cutting enough to make way for another surge of supply anticipated from shale oil drillers in America. “Anybody who thinks that the Saudis are not serious about reducing the perception of a supply glut had better think again, ” said Flynn. Powered by shale's dynamically-evolving fracking technology, USA crude production reached a record high 11.7 million bpd in 2018 and is expected to top 12 million this year.

"The omens are far from encouraging", said Stephen Brennock, of oil broker PVM, about the price outlook for 2019, citing rising non-Opec supply and the likelihood of further increases in oil inventories.

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"The current bearish bias will therefore continue in the near term and it stands to reason that oil will struggle to break out from its current trough", he said.

Oil will only start to rally when there is a clear consensus on the delicate balance of supply and demand, and the market's starting point for assessing this is usually US API and EIA inventory data.

Oil has risen for five days, shaking off concern over global growth that's hammered stock markets this week.

China issued its first batch of crude import quotas for 2019 yesterday at a lower volume than for the same batch a year ago, though expectations are for the volumes to climb later this year. That's added to bullish sentiment from progress in trade talks between the world's biggest economies and helped offset wider stock market turmoil driven by fears of a slowdown in China.

While OPEC's output plunged by the most in nearly two years last month and producers have pledged to curb supplies through the first half of 2019, concerns about the oversupply prevail as stockpiles at America's main storage hub show signs of swelling.

An Opec list of output targets seen by Reuters and other news organisations will provide a basis to calculate compliance with the new supply deal in the January survey. The United Arab Emirates also cut its overseas sales.

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