United States crude oil prices hit more than 3-year high

A surprise drop in US production and lower crude inventories helped crude oil prices hold on to near three-year high on Thursday

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries fear current price gains could prompt USA shale oil companies to flood the market.

Homes that use heating oil will spend an average of $215 or 17 percent more this year than last, and that's assuming a "normal" winter.

Late in the week, prices received a boost after the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) oil minister hinted that an alliance between OPEC and non-OPEC producers, including Russian Federation, could continue in some way beyond their current deal to curb oil output.

Adding to the positive momentum, energy bodies OPEC and IEA recently raised global oil demand forecasts for 2018, helping to tighten the market significantly.

The agency said its forecast of $60 Brent this year and $61 in 2019 is based on an expectation that global oil inventories will rise this year and next, contributing to a decline in Brent prices in the first quarter of the year, with prices expected to remain relatively flat thereafter through 2019. To stabilize the oil market and stop prices from continuing to fall, a change in strategy was needed and many producers cut their production.

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The price of a barrel of Brent crude hit $69.37 on Wednesday, the highest amount since December 2014. The EIA says it will account for two thirds, or 800,000 b/d of the 1.2 mb/d of oil production growth expected between December 2017 to December 2019. Therein lies part of the challenge: Producers want to shrink oil inventories, but the market's price may have increased too quickly in response.

USA crude production is forecast to average 10.3 million barrels a day in 2018, a record level.

Traders are watching the surplus on the five-year average in crude oil inventories for signs of balance.

US domestic crude oil supplies fell by 4.9 million barrels for the week ended January 5, according to the latest US Energy Information Administration report.

USA production growth is estimated at 1.5 million bpd in 2018 and 1 million bpd in 2019, with Canada and Brazil expected to contribute combined growth in both years of some 400,000 bpd. Some observers have argued that the vast majority of the production increase has been in the form of natural gas liquids or condensates - lighter hydrocarbons that include propane and butane when refined. Given the high price of crude and the expansion of fracking at that time, crude supply continued to grow until peaking in mid 2017. The improving commodity pricing environment looks somewhat sustainable on the back of tailwinds like OPEC production cuts which are expected to continue till 2018-end along with improved demand outlook. Also, the dollar fell in a broad sell-off after a report that China was ready to slow or halt its USA treasury purchases.

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