Market views on supply and demand have divereged in recent weeks, with some anayst suggesting new demand will dry up a glut of crude on the global market, while stepped up refinery activity at the Northern Hemisphere summer approaches willa id that effort.
Crude could remain in a narrow range, much like last week if investors continue to weigh the impact of the first oil cut from OPEC against the rising US shale oil output and high inventories.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said that OPEC would extend the cuts after they expire in June if oil stockpiles were "still above the five-year average".
The US oil rig count rose by 14 to 631 rigs, the highest level since September 2015, according to data published on Friday by Baker Hughes Inc.
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"The American people aren't stupid", he said back in 2012 - when the price of oil was above $100 a barrel and gas was $3.50-plus a gallon at the pump.
The new reserves have disrupted the global oil market: While OPEC countries and Russian Federation agreed last November to cut production by almost 1.8 million barrels a day to run down inventory gluts, USA output has grown: Drillers here have added oil rigs for the past eight straight weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rebounded from losses, but were down 43 cents to $48.35 a barrel.
The weekly EIA report showed inventories fell by 237,000 barrels in the week to March 10, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 3.7 million barrels.
In February, Saudi oil production staged a monthly rise of 180,000 bpd, but at 9.98 million bpd, its output remained below its agreed target of 10.06 million bpd and, according to tanker-tracking data, Riyadh is focussing its cutbacks on North America, the IEA said.
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"It's too early to know whether everyone will agree to this", a source from a non-OPEC participant in the deal said, referring to prolonging the output curb.
The chart above shows how oil prices have fared since OPEC announced its supply cut previous year until date. It is doubtful that he expected Saudi Arabia to do the job for him.
Growing U.S. production is playing into concerns about the effectiveness of the deal between members of OPEC and other producers.
"I think oil is reacting still to the steady rise in the US rig count and the realization that momentum is building to the downside from the repositioning of speculative interests in the market", said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in NY.
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Beyond OPEC, oil production rose 90,000 bpd in February, as increasing US output offset declines elsewhere. However, U.S. shale producers can't continue to increase their output indefinitely.
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