Oil rises above $52 as Chinese demand seen boosted
Oil prices rose above $52 a barrel Wednesday as a large interest rate cut in China was seen boosting its oil demand. News that Russia could join OPEC in cutting output also propped up prices, although more bad news about the U.S. economy kept the rise in check.
By mid-afternoon in Europe, light, sweet crude for January delivery was up $1.95 to $52.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Nymex contract overnight fell $3.73 to settle at $50.77 after the U.S. said its gross domestic product shrank 0.5 percent in the third quarter, worse than previously estimated.
In London, January Brent crude rose $2.10 to $52.45 on the ICE Futures exchange.
China's biggest interest rate cut in 11 years — and the fourth in three months — was expected to lead to increased demand for oil.
"This could help speed up the Chinese economy's recovery from the current slowdown and therefore encouraging for oil demand growth in the future," said a report from Sucden Research in London.
The People's Bank of China cut interest rates by 1.08 percentage points, cutting interest on a one-year loan to 5.58 percent, effective Thursday. Interest paid on deposits will fall to 2.52 percent.
On the other hand, orders to U.S. factories for durable goods fell 6.2 percent in October, the Commerce Department said. It was the largest drop in two years and more than double the 3 percent decline economists expected.
While U.S. jobless claims, a seasonally adjusted 529,000, were slightly lower than expected, they remained at recessionary levels.
Slowing global economic activity has spurred corporate losses and job cuts, undermining demand for fuels to power industry and cars. Meanwhile, plunging U.S. home and stock prices have gutted personal wealth and hurt consumer demand.
"Commodity prices are really captive to the broader economic and financial issues," said Gerard Burg, minerals and energy economist with National Australia Bank in Melbourne. "It's possible we've seen a bottom, but anything over $60 is probably too high over the next few weeks."
Last week, prices fell as low as $48.25 a barrel in intraday trading.
But prices got a lift by expectations of a production cut by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for 40 percent of global supply. The group will hold and informal meeting Saturday in Cairo and an official meeting Dec. 17 in Algeria.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Sunday that OPEC should cut oil production by 1 million barrels per day at the Cairo meeting. OPEC President Chakib Khelil said Monday that if the organization met today, a cut of 1 million barrels would not be enough to support oil prices. But Khelil has said in the past that OPEC needs more time to evaluate the effect of previous production cuts. The group cut output by 1.5 million barrels a day last month.
Russia, one the world's largest crude producers, may join OPEC in output cuts, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said in New Delhi on Tuesday, Press Trust of India news agency reported.
"Very few members of OPEC are content with prices this low and they really want to firm up the market," Burg said. "We haven't heard OPEC say they're happy with prices at $50. Russia could also move in line with OPEC."
JBC Energy in Vienna noted that it's been nearly seven years since non-OPEC oil exporters Russia, Norway and Mexico last made coordinated moves to cut output.
Investors will also be watching for signs of slowing U.S. demand in the weekly oil inventories report to be released Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration.
The report is expected to show that oil stocks rose 400,0000 barrels last week, according to the average of estimates in a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
The Platts survey also projects that gasoline inventories rose 300,000 million barrels and distillates fell 900,000 barrels last week.
In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures rose 3.21 cents to $1.1270 a gallon. Heating oil gained 3.32 cents to $1.732 a gallon while natural gas for January delivery increased 1.1 cents to $6.397 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.
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