US crude surges 3.3% to 2-month high on hopes for US-China trade deal

Oil prices hit a roughly two-month high on Friday, rising with the stock market, on news that China has put forward a plan to eliminate its trade surplus with the United States.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures ended Friday's session up $1.73, or 3.3 percent, at $53.80 per barrel, the best closing price since Nov 21.

International Brent crude oil futures were up $1.50, or 2.5 percent, at $62.68 per barrel around 2:30 p.m. ET. Brent earlier rose as high as $63, its best intraday price since Dec. 7.

Both benchmarks are up about 4 percent this week, posting a third consecutive week of gains following a three-month collapse in oil prices.

A plan floated by Beijing would see China ramp up purchases of U.S. goods over the next six years with the goal of reducing its trade surplus to zero by 2024. President Donald Trump has highlighted the U.S. trade deficit with foreign countries, and the offer could appeal to the protectionist commander-in-chief.

However, U.S. trade negotiators — who aim to address issues like barriers to accessing the Chinese market and China's alleged theft of intellectual property — are skeptical of Beijing's offer, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news.

Earlier on Monday, markets got a boost from a Wall Street Journal report that Washington is considering removing tariffs on Chinese goods to calm investors and advance trade talks. Markets gave backs gains after the U.S. Treasury Department and United States Trade Representative denied that either agency has recommended the tactic.

The ongoing trade dispute between the world's two biggest economies has raised concerns about slower global growth and weaker demand for fuel.

"The most unknown question for the oil markets for 2019 is the level of demand, so oil interestingly is acting more like an equity market in the sense that it's pricing in concerns about future demand," said Tamar Essner, director of energy and utilities at Nasdaq Corporate solutions.

"People are really worried about these red flags in China in terms of auto sales coming down, retail sales coming down, and they're looking at that and saying maybe this is a leading indicator — that demand might come down in the future," she told CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange" on Friday.

The International Energy Agency on Friday said balancing the oversupplied oil market will be a marathon rather than a sprint, as demand remains uncertain at a time when U.S. oil production is surging.

However, the latest U.S. rig count from oilfield services firm Baker Hughes offered some evidence that American production will moderate in the near term. Drillers pulled 21 oil rigs from U.S. fields last week, bringing the national rig count to 852, the lowest since last May.

Oil prices also drew support from a report issued on Thursday showing OPEC's oil output fell sharply in December, indicating the 14-nation producer group got a jump start on supply reductions that began on Jan. 1.

The decline was driven by a large voluntary reduction in Saudi output, as well as supply disruptions from Libya and Iran.

Some analysts believe U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil exports will tighten in the coming months. Iran's energy industry has been under U.S. sanctions since November, but the Trump administration is allowing eight countries to more gradually scale back their purchases.

Risk consultancy Eurasia Group on Thursday said Washington is likely to continue granting waivers to China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, but Greece, Italy and Taiwan will likely see their exemptions expire in May.


Author: Tom DiChristopher | @tdichristopher