Oil up toward 2019 highs on supply, trade talks optimism

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Oil prices edged up on Monday toward a 2019 high achieved last week as sanctions and political uncertainty tightened supply in several producer countries and US-China talks appeared headed toward success.

But record US exports and continued anxiety over poor economic data worldwide this year may curb gains.

International Brent crude oil futures were at $67.28 a barrel at 0950 GMT, up 16 cents, or 0.24 percent, from their last close. On Friday, they briefly touched their highest levels since Nov. 16 at $67.73 a barrel.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $57.39 per barrel, up 13 cents, or 0.23 percent, from their last settlement. WTI futures marked their highest since Nov. 16 at $57.81 a barrel.

“Risk appetite across global markets should improve as President Trump extends the deadline of trade talks with China,” Harry Tchilinguirian, global oil strategist at BNP Paribas in London, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.

“Supply risk is ever present with Venezuelan tensions brewing a notch higher ... the National Oil Corporation in Libya refusing to start production at the El Sharara field,” he added, while also citing uncertainty over elections in top African oil exporter Nigeria.

US sanctions on Iranian and Venezuelan crude plus involuntary curbs in Nigeria and Libya are lending support to efforts to balance the market and support prices, efforts led by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers such as Russia.

Further brightening the global economic picture, US President Donald Trump on Sunday signaled a potentially bruising trade war with China could be averted.

Trump tweeted he would postpone a March 1 deadline for higher tariffs on Chinese goods and looked forward to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping when a Sino-American deal was sealed.

Goldman Sachs analysts said on Monday that “the near-term outlook for oil is modestly bullish over the next two to three months”, but added that the outlook for later in 2019 was weaker due to a surge in US exports and an “an increasingly uncertain economic, policy and geopolitical backdrop”.

US exports hit a record 3.6 million bpd this month.