Oil hits 12-week high over $113 on Saudi output cut

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Brent crude oil rose more than $1 to a 12-week high on Thursday after news of a sharp cut in Saudi oil production, an explosion in Yemen that halted most of the country's oil exports and bullish Chinese trade data.

Saudi Arabia cut its crude oil production by around 700,000 barrels a day (bpd) over the last two months of last year, with December output at around 9.0 million bpd, an industry source familiar with Saudi oil policy said.

The world's largest oil exporter produced 9.025 million bpd in December, down from 9.49 million bpd in November and more than 1 million bpd below its peak production last summer.

Flows of oil through Yemen's main crude export pipeline stopped on Thursday after it was blown up by unknown attackers, government and oil industry officials said.

On the demand side, strong Chinese trade data raised expectations that an economic recovery in the world's second-biggest oil consumer would drive fuel consumption higher.

Brent crude oil for February rose $1.53 to a high of $113.29, its highest since Oct. 18, before easing back to around $112.75 by 1230 GMT. U.S. light crude oil futures rose $1.60 to peak at $94.70 per barrel.

"These three factors - Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the China data - are all helping to push up the market," said Tamas Varga, an oil analyst at brokers PVM Oil Associates in London.

"The Saudi news is a surprise. We knew output was coming down but not this far, this quickly."

Riyadh says it favours an oil price of about $100 a barrel, but recent reports have suggested the market is well supplied and that output from some areas, particularly North America, will grow rapidly over the next two years.

"Short term, the Saudi output figures are bullish, but longer term they are more bearish, because they suggest Saudi Arabia sees the need to cut to balance the market," Varga said.

CHINA

The market was jolted by news of the damage to Yemen's export pipeline in the central Maarib province, which only resumed flows in December after major repairs.

"The bombing of the pipeline made us stop the crude pumping from the fields to the export terminal," a Yemen oil ministry official said.

Chinese trade data was strongly bullish.

Import and export growth in December were well above most projections, widening China's trade balance to $31.6 billion from $19.6 billion in November, official data showed, boosting Asian shares.

"Risk is back on after the China data," said Carsten Fritsch, senior oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "General market sentiment is much more positive, with hopes of better growth pushing up most markets."

World shares, commodities and growth-linked currencies all rose as the stronger-than-expected figures raised hopes of a recovery in global economic activity this year.

Trade data from the world's second-largest economy showed the value of exports grew 14.1 percent last month from a year earlier, racing past the forecasts of analysts polled by Reuters, who had expected annual growth of 4 percent, and accelerating sharply from 2.9 percent in November.

The value of imports grew 6 percent in December on the year, also beating market forecasts for a rise of 3 percent and quickening from zero growth in November.

China's crude oil imports for 2012 rose 6.8 percent from the previous year, data from China's General Administration of Customs showed, in line with the 6.7 percent rate reported last month for January to November.

Investors awaited a news conference of the European Central Bank at 1330 GMT, when ECB President Mario Draghi was expected to strike a slightly more positive tone after recent signs of stabilisation in the euro zone economy.

The ECB is expected to keep interest rates at a record low of 0.75 percent on Thursday, refraining from a cut as inflation remains well above its target.

The United States also will announce initial jobless claims for the week ended Jan. 5, which may offer some hints on the health of the world's biggest economy, w h ile the dollar's recent strength has hurt commodities priced in dollars, such as oil.



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