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Oil prices jump, Brent hits highest in more than 2 weeks


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices jumped on Friday, with Brent crude futures hitting their highest in more than two weeks as U.S. stock prices rose and investors covered short bets ahead of a weekend in which the U.S. news program “60 Minutes” will air an interview with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be on “60 Minutes” on Sunday “comparing Iran’s Ayatollah to Hitler, and the battle in Ghouta, Syria, is ramping up,” said John Kilduff, partner at investment manager Again Capital in New York. “You can’t be short oil over the weekend with all that going on in the region.”

Brent futures rose $1.09 to settle at $66.21 a barrel, a 1.7 percent gain. During the session, Brent hit $66.42, its highest since Feb. 28.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for April, which will expire on Tuesday, rose $1.15 to settle at $62.34 a barrel, a 1.9 percent gain. U.S. crude rose to $62.54 on Friday, its highest since March 7.

Brent futures gained 1 percent for the week, while WTI marked a weekly rise of 0.4 percent. It was the second straight weekly rise for both contracts.

Gains on Wall Street also supported crude futures, which have recently been moving in tandem with U.S. stock indices.

U.S. drillers added four oil rigs in the week to March 16, bringing the total count to 800, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday. It was the seventh U.S. rig count rise in eight weeks.

On Thursday the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted global oil demand would pick up this year, but supply is growing at a faster pace, which should boost inventories.

The agency raised its forecast for oil demand this year to 99.3 million barrels per day (bpd) from 97.8 million bpd in 2017, and said it expected supply from non-OPEC nations to grow by 1.8 million bpd in 2018 to 59.9 million bpd, led by the United States.

OPEC and other producers have cut output to reduce a global crude glut.

“Demand is gradually improving, and that continues to be priced into the price of oil,” said Mark Watkins, regional investment manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Park City, Utah.

“That’s that positive backdrop that you end up having that really is going to be the catalyst for a true rebalancing of inventories.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. government reported that crude stockpiles in the United States increased by a more-than-expected 5 million barrels.



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