TOKYO (Reuters) - Oil prices rose for a third day to their highest in about eight months on Wednesday, helped by industry data showing a larger-than-expected drawdown in U.S. crude inventories, worries about attacks on Nigeria's oil industry and strong Chinese demand.
London Brent crude for August delivery was up 9 cents at $51.53 a barrel by 0451 GMT, after settling up 89 cents on Tuesday. It earlier touched $51.55, the highest since Oct. 12.
NYMEX crude for July delivery was up 17 cents at $50.53 a barrel, after touching $50.58 earlier, the strongest since Oct. 9.
U.S. commercial crude inventories fell by 3.6 million barrels last week, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday after the market settlement, compared with expectations for a 2.7 million barrel draw according to a revised Reuters poll.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will issue official inventory numbers at 1430 GMT on Wednesday.
The market inched higher after Chinese trade data showed that its exports fell more than expected in May, but imports beat forecasts, adding to hopes that the economy of the world's second-largest oil user may be stabilising. Its crude imports last month jumped 38.7 percent from a year ago.
"Overall, China's economic activity is not slowing down as much as expected, which is a support to the market," said Kaname Gokon at brokerage Okato Shoji.
Worries about global supply disruptions also supported the market, analysts said. The southern Delta swamps in Nigeria have been hit by militant attacks on oil and gas pipelines which have brought the African nation's oil output to a 20-year low.
Nigeria's government said it would scale down a military campaign and talk to the militant group.
Takayuki Nogami, senior economist at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp (JOGMEC), said the start of the summer gasoline demand season, supply disruptions in Nigeria and Canada and a weak dollar because of a possible delay in the timing of a U.S. interest rate hike have combined to push up the market.
"The Nigerian militants have pledged to continue attacks until production becomes zero, so there are worries over a further slump in output," he said.
Still, some concerns about global oil demand remain. The World Bank slashed its 2016 global growth forecast on Wednesday to 2.4 percent due to stubbornly low commodity prices, sluggish demand in advanced economies, weak trade and diminishing capital flows.
By Osamu Tsukimori
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger)
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 March 2019 – Brent: US$66/b; WTI: US$56/b
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In 2017, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – also known as the Oil Fund – proposed a complete divestment of oil and gas shares from its massive portfolio. Last week, the Norwegian government partially approved that request, allowing the Fund to exclude 134 upstream companies from the wealth fund. Players like Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy, CNOOC, Premier Oil, Soco International and Tullow Oil will now no longer receive any investment from the Fund. That might seem like an inconsequential move, but it isn’t. With over US$1 trillion in assets – the Fund is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world – it is a major market-shifting move.
Estimates suggest that the government directive will require the Oil Fund to sell some US$7.5 billion in stocks over an undefined period. Shares in the affected companies plunged after the announcement. The reaction is understandable. The Oil Fund holds over 1.3% of all global stocks and shares, including 2.3% of all European stocks. It holds stakes as large as of 2.4% of Royal Dutch Shell and 2.3% of BP, and has long been seen as a major investor and stabilising force in the energy sector.
It is this impression that the Fund is trying to change. Established in 1990 to invest surplus revenues of the booming Norwegian petroleum sector, prudent management has seen its value grow to some US$200,000 per Norwegian citizen today. Its value exceeds all other sovereign wealth funds, including those of China and Singapore. Energy shares – specifically oil and gas firms – have long been a major target for investment due to high returns and bumper dividends. But in 2017, the Fund recommended phasing out oil exploration from its ‘investment universe’. At the time, this was interpreted as yielding to pressure from environmental lobbies, but the Fund has made it clear that the move is for economic reasons.
Put simply, the Fund wants to move away from ‘putting all its eggs in one basket’. Income from Norway’s vast upstream industry – it is the largest producing country in Western Europe – funds the country’s welfare state and pays into the Fund. It has ethical standards – avoiding, for example, investment in tobacco firms – but has concluded that devoting a significant amount of its assets to oil and gas savings presents a double risk. During the good times, when crude prices are high and energy stocks booming, it is a boon. But during a downturn or a crash, it is a major risk. With typical Scandinavian restraint and prudence, the Fund has decided that it is best to minimise that risk by pouring its money into areas that run counter-cyclical to the energy industry.
However, the retreat is just partial. Exempt from the divestment will be oil and gas firms with significant renewable energy divisions – which include supermajors like Shell, BP and Total. This is touted as allowing the Fund to ride the crest of the renewable energy wave, but also manages to neatly fit into the image that Norway wants to project: balancing a major industry with being a responsible environmental steward. It’s the same reason why Equinor – in which the Fund holds a 67% stake – changed its name from Statoil, to project a broader spectrum of business away from oil into emerging energies like wind and solar. Because, as the Fund’s objective states, one day the oil will run out. But its value will carry on for future generations.
The Norway Oil Fund in a Nutshell