Oil prices touch end-2014 highs, as Saudi backs higher prices

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SINGAPORE: Oil prices rose on Thursday to their highest since the end of 2014 as U.S. crude inventories declined and as top exporter Saudi Arabia pushes for higher prices by continuing to withhold supplies.

Brent crude oil futures rose to as much as $74.02 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 27, 2014, and were at $73.93 per barrel at 0514 GMT, up 45 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 38 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $68.85 a barrel. WTI earlier rose to as much as $68.95, its strongest since Dec. 2, 2014.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its partners in a supply reduction pact will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 20. OPEC will then meet on June 22 to review its oil production policy.

OPEC and other major producers including Russia started to withhold output in 2017 to rein in oversupply that had depressed prices since 2014.

It was reported on Wednesday that top oil exporter Saudi Arabia would be happy to see crude rise to $80 or even $100 a barrel, which was seen as a sign that Riyadh will seek no changes to the supply-cutting deal.

Since the start of the supply cuts, crude inventories have gradually declined from record levels toward long-term average levels.

In the United States, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday that commercial crude stocks fell by 1.1 million barrels in the week to April 13, to 427.57 million barrels, close to the five-year average level of around 420 million barrels.

Further supporting oil prices is an expectation that the United States will re-introduce sanctions against Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, which could result in further supply reductions from the Middle East.