Iran Suffers Longest Gap In Oil Shipments To China Since 2015

Oil prices eased on Wednesday, having neared its highest level this year after a drop in USA crude inventories and the prospect of the loss of Iranian supply added to concerns over the delicate balance between consumption and production.

"Things are tightening up", the agency said in its monthly report, but added: "As we move into 2019, a possible risk to our forecast lies in some key emerging economies, partly due to currency depreciations versus the USA dollar raising the cost of imported energy".

Oil markets were also watching Hurricane Florence offshore the United States amid surging demand for gasoline and diesel, although crude output will not be affected on the storm's current route.

US crude stocks fell 5.3 million barrels in the week to September 7 to 396.2 million barrels, the lowest since February 2015 and about 3 percent below the five-year average for this time of year, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

As investors grow concerned that Iranian sanctions may leave the market short of crude oil, November Brent crude futures now trade at a premium of $0.47 over the December contract, highest since May.

Crude oil prices gained traction on Tuesday and finally staged a decisive recovery with the barrel of West Texas Intermediate breaking above the $69 mark.

Since spring when the Trump Administration said it would impose sanctions on Iran, crude traders have priced in a risk premium reflecting the supply shortages that may occur when exports from the third-largest OPEC member are cut.

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With Middle East crude markets also tightening because of the USA sanctions against Iran, many Asian refiners are seeking alternative supplies, with South Korean and Japanese imports of US crude hitting a record in September.

"Market participants are now evaluating this development in conjunction with potential for further declines in oil output from Iran and Venezuela, which portrays a significantly bullish picture on prices", said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy in London. "This is a huge uncertainty on the market - how countries, which buy nearly 2 million barrels per day of Iranian oil, will act".

That price range could be "tested" as the oil market enters "a very crucial period", the Paris-based agency said in its monthly report.

Combined output by these three producers has risen by 3.8 million bpd since September 2014, more than the peak 3 million bpd Iran has managed during the last three years.

With Middle East crude markets also tightening, many Asian refiners are seeking alternative supplies, with South Korean and Japanese imports of US crude hitting a record in September.

But it said rising demand could also be checked.

Chinese media Xinhua said the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast on Tuesday that U.S. crude oil production will average 10.7 million bpd in 2018, up from 9.4 million barrels bpd in 2017, and will average 11.5 million barrels bpd in 2019.

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