WTI was still on track to rise about 1.7 percent for the week, and Brent was up 2.2 percent, with both contracts set for their second weekly gains after falling steeply early in the month.
Friday’s dips followed gains during the previous day when the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said U.S. crude stockpiles fell by 1.6 million barrels in the week to Feb. 16, to 420.48 million barrels, despite a seasonal slowdown in demand at the end of the northern hemisphere winter season.
“A counter-seasonal draw should always be taken bullishly -as it has been - but this week’s net crude imports were very low,” U.S. investment bank Jefferies said, adding that “extremely low” imports also contributed to the draws.
Other analysts pointed to the shape of the oil price curve as the reason for the stock draw.
“Part of that (inventory fall) is the shape of the oil curve which makes it uneconomic to store product,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.
The forward price curves for Brent <0#LCO:> and WTI <0#CL:> are in a shape known as backwardation, in which prices for immediate delivery are more expensive than those for later sale, making it uneconomical for traders to buy and store oil.
While the reduction in U.S. inventories supported crude prices, America’s low imports and surging exports were weighing crude down, traders said.
U.S. crude exports jumped to just above 2 million barrels per day (bpd) last week, EIA data showed, close to a record high of 2.1 million hit in October. That helped pull down net imports to below 5 million bpd, the lowest level since the EIA started recording the data in 2001.
U.S. crude oil production was virtually unchanged last week at 10.27 million bpd, close to the levels of top producer Russia and more than Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, currently pumps.
Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger