London — 1120 GMT: Crude futures held at fresh three-year highs in European morning trading Thursday, as a larger-than-expected draw on US crude stocks continued to outweigh signs of rising oil product stocks, and the market looked ahead to a deadline Friday on the fate of the Iranian sanctions waiver.
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Related video -- 2018 Brent crude oil volatility: January outlook
At 1120 GMT, ICE March Brent crude futures were 32 cents higher than Wednesday's settle of $69.20/b which was the highest since early December 2014. The NYMEX February light sweet crude contract was up 40 cents at $63.97/b. The US Dollar Index was up 0.08% at 92.19.
Weekly data released on Wednesday from the US Energy Information Administration showed stockpiles fell 4.948 million barrels in the week to January 5, to 419.515 million barrels. As a result of that fall, the surplus to the five-year average has nearly halved over the past eight weeks.
Those figures exceeded analysts' expectations of a drawdown of 3.5 million barrels, but were far lower than figures published on Tuesday by the American Petroleum Institute that indicated a drawdown of 11.2 million barrels, which helped push prices to fresh three-year highs.
The EIA drawdown was also in contrast to larger than expected builds in gasoline and distillate stocks. Gasoline stocks rose 4.135 million barrels, while distillate stocks rose by 4.254 million, roughly double analysts' expectations.
"It was a bit [of a] mixed outlook when you look at products. It gave some swings around when both [API and EIA figures] published, [but] prices look still very supported by the Iran question and a lot of technical trading," senior oil risk manager at Global Risk Management in Copenhagen Michael Poulsen said.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump will face a deadline on the waiver for Iranian sanctions as part of the nuclear deal. Analysts have said that 800,000 b/d of Iranian exports could be at risk if the deal unravels.
Alongside falling production from Venezuela, where economic and political crisis has pushed output to its lowest in around 15 years, that would offer a further boost to bullish sentiment and help the pace of overall production cuts, analysts said, but that same bullishness could also risk promoting further supply.
"The significant price increase and high price level present a quandary for OPEC countries: higher revenues mean more money flowing into the public purse in the short term, yet OPEC risks losing market share to US shale oil producers in the medium to long term," Commzerbank analysts said in a note.
Analysts have also warned a market heading toward $70/b could be overextended, particularly in light of a prediction earlier this week from the EIA that rising US domestic production could break through the decades-old record of slightly above 10 million barrels a month as early as February.