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UPDATE 10-Oil mixed as OPEC pushes supply cut need, demand fears weigh
Published at 14/03/2019 at 19:52

* OPEC builds case for extension of supply cuts

* Oil storage tanks explode in Venezuela

* Venezuela main terminal resumes shipments

* U.S. aims to cut Iran's crude exports below 1 mln bpd

(Updates prices, market activity and comments to settlement)

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK, March 14 (Reuters) - Oil prices steadied on Thursday after hitting 2019 highs as OPEC built its case to extend its production cut program past June while lowering its forecast for crude demand.

Crude futures also wavered on uncertainty over the progress of U.S.-China trade talks and global economic growth.

Brent crude hit a four-month peak of $68.14 per barrel before settling at $67.23, down 32 cents from Wednesday's close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled at $58.61 a barrel, up 35 cents.

Both benchmarks had rallied on Wednesday on U.S. government data showing a surprise fall in crude inventory and a lower-than-expected estimate of U.S. crude production growth.

In its monthly report released on Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut the forecast for demand for its crude this year and predicted strong growth in non-OPEC supply.

OPEC's bearish demand outlook and rising production was offset by its apparent resolve to extend crude output cuts, agreed to by its members and allied producers, which have helped oil prices rise more than 20 percent this year.

"That's probably a reflection of the price fluctuation we've seen in today's prices," said Phil Streible, senior commodities strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago.

Fresh concerns about the global economy dented oil prices.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States was doing well in trade talks with China, but that he could not say whether a final deal would be reached.

Meanwhile, data showing China's industrial output grew 5.3 percent in January and February, the slowest pace of expansion in 17 years, weighing on demand sentiment.

"One of the things that seemed to slow the momentum was the Chinese economic data overnight," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

A U.S. Commerce Department report showed sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell more than expected in January, suggesting housing market weakness early in the first quarter.

Supply disruptions from OPEC members Venezuela and Iran limited losses.

Amid political turmoil in Venezuela, two storage tanks exploded at a heavy-crude upgrading project in the east of the country on Wednesday, according to an oil industry source and a legislator. The country's main oil terminal resumed shipments after a prolonged blackout.

Two sources told Reuters that the United States aims to curb Iran's crude exports by about 20 percent to below 1 million barrels per day from May, likely reining in waivers for Tehran's remaining customers.

Market participants are now turning their attention to U.S. rig count estimates, an early indicator of future output, which will be released on Friday, Flynn said.

<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ GRAPHIC: U.S. oil production & storage levels

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(Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Henning Gloystein; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Phil Berlowitz)

((Laila.kearney@thomsonreuters.com; (917) 809-0054))