Oil prices slipped but largely steadied Wednesday as supply data offered little new revelations, allowing contracts to preserve the bulk of the 3% price jump a day earlier. That move fed the over 20% recovery for the major benchmarks since a fourth-quarter plunge.

Expected stock-market gains boosted risk-on sentiment that lent support to the commodities space, but energy traders remain wary of any surprises in supply data even as most data show a global oversupply is receding. Prices finished strong Tuesday after China, the world’s largest importer of crude, indicated it would enact fresh fiscal stimulus and tax cuts to bolster its flagging economy.

Early Wednesday, West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery

CLG9, -0.83%

 was down 38 cents, or 0.7%, at $51.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. March Brent crude

LCOH9, -0.48%

slipped 23 cents, or 0.4%, to $60.43 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

As for the latest supply picture, the American Petroleum Institute reported late Tuesday that U.S. crude supplies fell by 560,000 barrels for the week ended Jan. 11, according to sources. The API, however, also reportedly showed that gasoline stockpiles climbed by 6 million barrels, while distillate inventories rose 3.2 million barrels.

Inventory data from the Energy Information Administration will be released Wednesday. On average, analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts expect the EIA to report a fall of 250,000 barrels in crude supplies. The survey also forecast supply increases of 2.6 million barrels for gasoline and 900,000 barrels for distillates.

February gasoline

RBG9, -0.64%

 fell 0.7% to $1.4016 a gallon, while February heating oil

HOG9, -0.42%

 fell 0.5% to $1.8635 a gallon. February natural gas

NGG19, +0.69%

 was up 1.1% at $3.542 per million British thermal units.

Among monthly oil reports, the EIA’s short-term energy outlook released Tuesday revealed a 0.8% reduction to the 2019 forecast on Brent crude prices to $60.52. The EIA’s forecast for WTI this year remained unchanged at $54.19. For 2020, the government agency sees an average of $60.76 for Brent and $60.76 for WTI, with U.S. output expected to climb to 12.86 million barrels a day.

OPEC on Thursday is expected to release its monthly oil market report, followed by that of the International Energy Agency on Friday.

Crude prices have risen by more than 20% from annual lows reached at the end of 2018, on signs a global oversupply is being brought into balance, in part because of a production pledge by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-plus members. December’s low was made on back of a 40% price plunge during the fourth quarter of last year, from four-year highs reached as recently as the start of October.

“The fourth-quarter collapse in oil prices rivals the demand-driven collapse that occurred during the financial crisis [of 2008-2009], as well as the supply-driven collapse of late 2014. However, [current] fundamentals appear to offer neither extreme,” said Brian Watson, a senior portfolio manager in the energy sector, with Oppenheimer Funds. He notes, in part, the IEA’s forecast for a 7.5 million barrel per day increase in oil demand between 2017 and 2025.

Watson said the key supply difference now versus 2014 is that “few global fields other than U.S. shale are receiving enough investment to grow. The IEA estimates that global investment has fallen to a level that may place an unrealistic burden on U.S. shale growth to meet global demand growth and to offset declines elsewhere.”

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2019-01-16