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Oil prices climbs as U.S. drilling stalls, Washington sanctions against Iran loom

SINGAPORE (Agencies): Oil prices rose on Monday as U.S. drilling for new production stalled and as the market eyed tighter conditions once Washington’s sanctions against Iran’s crude exports kick in from November.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $68.19 per barrel at 0344 GMT, up 44 cents, or 0.65 percent, from their last settlement.

Brent crude futures climbed 50 cents, or 0.65 percent, to $77.33 a barrel.

U.S. energy companies cut two oil rigs last week, bringing the total count to 860, energy services firm Baker Hughes said on Friday.

The U.S. rig count has stagnated since May, after staging a recovery since 2016, which followed a steep slump the previous year amid plummeting crude prices.

Outside the United States, new U.S. sanctions against Iran’s crude exports from November were helping push up prices.

With U.S. rig activity stalling and Iran sanctions looming, the oil market outlook is tightening.

Backwardation describes a market in which prices for immediate delivery are higher than those for later dispatch. It is considered a sign of tight conditions giving traders an incentive to sell oil immediately instead of storing it.

The Brent backwardation between October this year and mid-2019 is currently around $2.20 per barrel.

While Washington exerts pressure on other countries to fall into line and also cut imports from Iran, it is also urging other major producers to raise their output in order not to create too strong a price spike.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will meet counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Russia on Monday and Thursday, respectively, as the Trump administration seeks the world’s biggest exporter and producer to keep output up.

One key question going forward is how demand develops amid the trade dispute between the United States and China, as well as general emerging market weakness.

Asian shares started the week in the red on Monday, faltering for the eighth straight day as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened yet more import tariffs on Chinese goods.

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