Opec tightens its taps as global oil demand stalls

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In the meantime, the political rift between Venezuela and the United States continues with the USA sanctions against the South American nation giving prices a slight boost.

China's crude oil imports in January rose 4.8 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, to an average of 10.03 million barrels per day (bpd), the third straight month that imports have exceeded the 10 million bpd mark.

Khalid al-Falih, 59, who is also chairman of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil group, said that the company meant to build an global energy exploration and production business for the first time.

Oil prices rose on Wednesday as producer club Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said it had cut supply deeply in January and as U.S. sanctions hit Venezuela's oil exports.

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"In quantity terms, in 2019, the US alone will grow its crude oil production by more than Venezuela's current output".

Supply issues in OPEC-member Venezuela are also bolstering oil prices as the South American country suffers a political and economic crisis, with Washington introducing petroleum export sanctions against state-owned energy firm PDVSA.

"In terms of crude oil quantity, markets may be able to adjust after initial logistical dislocations (from Venezuela sanctions)", the Paris-based IEA said.

The biggest prize in the contest for control of Venezuela and its state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA lies more than 2,000 miles northwest of Caracas.

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The price has largely plateaued since then, in spite of the subsequent imposition of USA sanctions. Analysts were looking for a build of about 2.300 million barrels.

Markets were also supported by upbeat Chinese trade data, including for crude oil.

Sanctions announced last month prohibit US corporations and persons from financial transactions with state-owned oil company PDVSA.

In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries lowered its forecast for 2019 economic growth and said demand for its crude would fall to 30.59 million barrels per day, 240,000 bpd less than predicted last month.

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If refiners are unable to source enough heavy and extra heavy crude, they will buy the next best alternative, in this case medium density crudes, so the impact of sanctions is rippling through the entire oil market.

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