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Oil edges up on Libya disruptions, but bloated US market still weighs

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices edged up on Thursday, extending two days of increases as supply disruptions in Libya lifted the market, although bloated U.S. crude inventories curbed gains.

Prices for front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil, were at $ 52.53 per barrel at 0445 GMT, up 11 cents from their last close.

In the United States, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 19 cents to $ 49.70 a barrel.

The increases extended two days of gains which supported Brent well above $ 50 a barrel and lifted WTI within sight of that level.

Traders said supply disruptions in Libya were lifting the market and that falling U.S. gasoline inventories pointed to a tightening market there despite record crude stocks.

“Production issues … deepened, with Libyan oil output falling to about 500,000 barrels per day due to the shutdown of pipelines from its biggest field,” ANZ bank said on Thursday.

And while a rise in U.S. crude inventories weighed, ANZ said that “big falls in gasoline inventories, coming near the end of the refinery maintenance season, suggest crude oil inventories are on the cusp of declining”.

U.S. gasoline stocks fell 3.7 million barrels in the week ending March 24, compared with expectations for a 1.9-million barrel drop, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

U.S. crude inventories, however, rose 867,000 barrels to a record of nearly 534 million barrels.

Key for the direction of oil prices will be whether an initiative led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut oil production during the first half of the year will be extended, and how high compliance with the reduction targets will be.

OPEC, along with other producers including Russia, aims to cut output by almost 1.8 million bpd during the first half of the year.

OPEC compliance with its targets is expected to be 95 percent this month, up from 94 percent in February, according to Reuters surveys.

However, compliance could be lower by non-OPEC members like Russia, who have officially agreed to participate in the cuts.

“Russia’s 300,000 bpd cut commitment particularly has been called into question,” Eurasia Group said this week in a research report.

“While it remains possible Russia can scrape together a combination of outages and natural decline at some west Siberian brownfields and spin this as a 300,000-bpd output cut, it is highly unlikely Russia will achieve an absolute 300,000 bpd reduction during the tenure of the current agreement,” it added.

As markets remain bloated halfway into the curbs, there is a broad expectation that the supply cuts will be extended into the second half of the year.

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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