By Ahmad Ghaddar (Reuters)
LONDON - The price of crude oil climbed on Thursday, gaining support from record Chinese imports, but gains were limited after OPEC said its production had risen to the highest level in at least eight years and following reports of an increase in U.S. crude stocks.
Brent crude futures <LCOc1> were trading at $51.91 per barrel at 1037 GMT, up 10 cents from their previous close.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up 3 cents, at $50.21 per barrel.
Traders said oil markets had come under pressure after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported a rise in output.
"Crude responded predictably, with both Brent and WTI falling," said Jeffrey Halley of brokerage OANDA.
OPEC on Wednesday reported its oil production climbed in September to an eight-year high of 33.39 million barrels per day. It also raised its forecast for 2017 non-OPEC supply growth, pointing to a larger surplus next year despite the group's decision to limit output.
But some investors see the OPEC plan to curb output as a reason to take a bullish stance on the prospects for crude prices.
"In 2014 the big opportunity was in prices going down and now the big opportunity is in prices going up. That’s the way I see it," hedge fund manager Pierre Andurand told the Reuters Commodities Summit.
He added that OPEC's decision in Algiers to limit its overall output to 32.5-33 million bpd "takes off a large wild card from the oil markets for 2017."
Traders are also eyeing official U.S. inventory data due to be released later today.
The private American Petroleum Institute reported on Wednesday that U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.7 million barrels to 470.9 million barrels in the week to Oct. 7. This would be the first rise in oil stocks following five straight weeks of declines.
But the market received some support from China, which imported record volumes of crude oil last month, eclipsing the United States as the world's top buyer of foreign oil for the third time in a year, in a trend that could soon put the Asian nation at the top of the world's oil import table permanently.
China's September crude imports rose 18 percent from a year earlier to 33.06 million tonnes, or 8.04 million bpd on daily basis, customs data showed, compared with the U.S. four-week average of 7.98 million bpd.
Oil imports hit a record despite a worse-than-expected 10 percent fall in Chinese exports and a 1.9 percent drop in imports that cast a gloomy outlook on its economy.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)