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Brent Crude Holds Near 4-1/2 Month High On U.S. Rig Count, Yemen

National Yemen

Qas Flame in Yemen’s oil field

Brent crude prices held near a 4-1/2 month high above $65 a barrel on Monday, supported by concerns over fighting in Yemen disrupting Middle East supplies and signs that U.S. shale output may have started to decline.

The number of active U.S. rigs drilling for oil has fallen for a record 20 weeks in a row to the lowest since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data, fuelling expectations of a drop in U.S. production.

Brent had edged down 5 cents to $65.23 a barrel by 0623 GMT, after posting its third weekly gain last week and touching a Dec. 10 high of $65.80.

U.S. crude fell 14 cents to $57.01 a barrel, after rising for the sixth consecutive week in its longest stretch of gains since the first quarter of 2014.

“Sustaining the recent oil price rally requires firmer demand and a tangible supply response,” Barclays analysts said in a note.

“The cart is moving ahead of the horse, and we take a cautious view on further price appreciation over the near term.”

The latest rig count points to a slight decline in U.S. oil production between the second and third quarter, resulting in a 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) growth year-on-year in the fourth quarter, Goldman Sachs analysts said in an April 24 note.

But next year’s output is expected to grow at a faster pace of 280,000 bpd due to increased productivity and a backlog of uncompleted wells, the bank said.

Fighting in Yemen raged on as Saudi Arabia continued its air strikes against Houthi militia forces in Aden, but there were no fresh moves towards dialogue.

While the Yemen crisis has raised the risk premium for oil, Shunling Yap, a senior oil analyst at BMI Research, said supply from the world’s top exporter Saudi Arabia remained steady and there was no immediate threat to major oil shipping routes in the region.