Oil drops as demand shows signs of weakening

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"Demand for oil has been revised downwards for the second half of the year from April", PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said. However the IEA - which advises oil-consuming nations - has warned that prices are high enough to hurt consumption, and trimmed its forecasts for demand growth.

In addition, the high oil prices prompted the IEA to increase supply growth estimates for non-OPEC member producing countries, particularly the U.S.

An oversupply situation two years ago pushed the price of oil below $30 per barrel and if US estimates published later in the day on Wednesday line up with API, crude oil prices could move even lower. Prices could rally further before declining, according to some in OPEC.

Oil prices also continue to be bolstered by steadfast production cuts from the OPEC, and even continuous over-production from the U.S. hasn't been able to drive prices lower.

Brent Crude
Daily July Brent Crude

However analysts at Goldman Sachs said that even with such a slowdown, and rising USA shale production, supply problems would remain - pointing to production losses in Iran as well as Venezuela and Angola.

Not all indicators pointed to a tighter market, however. The results have seen United States oil imports fall back, with China now overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest oil importer, and the USA acting as the global swing oil producer, taking that mantra from OPEC.

Rosneft's oil and gas condensate output in the first quarter was down 1.2 percent year on year because of the global supply pact with OPEC, the company said.

Elsewhere, supply concerns have been mounting over the last week after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal - a move that reimposes sanctions on Iranian oil.

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The contention of many industry players, including the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), that rising global demand for crude will more than make up for increased production by some countries was dismissed outright on Wednesday when the International Energy Agency trimmed its 2018 world demand growth projection by 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.4 million bpd, projecting total consumption at 99.2 million bpd. Robust non-OPEC output offset lower OPEC production.

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Increasing production in the USA could also prevent price increases.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures are trading higher early Thursday after posting a marginal gain the previous session.

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Oil stocks were expected to drop further as peak summer driving season nears, offsetting increases in US shale output, said analysts at Bernstein.

The current oil price is also higher than the World Bank's projected average of $65barrel this year, up from last year's average of $53/barrel.

A potential loss of Iran output, declining Venezuelan output, and the "double supply shortfall" it presents could prompt other producers to step in to fill the gap - although this comes at a time of production restraint among major oil producers in an attempt to boost prices.

While all eyes are riveted on Iran and the Middle East, the pace of Chinese oil demand growth could be the most underappreciated story in oil markets right now, Bloomberg Opinion columnist David Fickling writes.

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