Global oil prices jumped higher Monday, following on from the strongest monthly gains since last spring, as investors extended bets on potential OPEC production cuts and reacted to a series of stronger-than-expected factory activity readings from the world's biggest economies.
Brent crude prices have gained more than 5.5% since late October, amid the strongest monthly gain since April, as the potential for an extension of OPEC production cuts, which are currently taking 1.2 million barrels from the market each day, offsets consistent increases in U.S. inventories.
Iraq's oil minister, Thamir Ghadhban, added to that speculation over the weekend with comments suggesting the cartel will extend its pact until at least the middle of next year as it aims to hold prices over the $60 a barrel mark, a target many analysts have linked to the recent flotation of Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company on its domestic exchange.
Brent crude contracts for February delivery, the new global benchmark, were seen $1.42 higher from their Friday close and trading at $61.91 per barrel in early European trading. WTI contracts for January, which are more tightly-linked to U.S. gasoline prices, were marked $1.33 higher at $56.50 per barrel.
Crude was also getting support from stronger-than-expected factory activity readings in China and Europe, with the former seeing the Caixin PMI reading rising to a 3-year high of 51.8 points, well ahead of the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction, and the latter indicating a bottoming out of its recent slump with a 46.9 point reading that included expansion in France and modest improvements in Germany.
"Although still signalling a steep rate of decline, the manufacturing PMI nonetheless brings some encouraging signals which will fuel speculation that the worst is over for euro area producers, barring any new set-backs," said IHS Markit economist Chris Williamson. ""Perhaps most promising is a marked upturn in business sentiment, particularly in Germany, with optimism about production in the year ahead hitting a five-month high in November."
Late last week, CFTC options data showed traders had increased their bullish bets on Brent crude to the highest levels since May heading into this week's OPEC meeting in Vienna, which will also include non-member allies such as Russia during the second day of talks in the Austrian capital.
OPEC' larger challenge, however, could come from rising production levels in the United States, where September output rose to a record 12.46 million barrels per day, according to Energy Department data published last week.
The output gains have added to domestic crude stockpiles, as well, with EIA data showing a fifth consecutive weekly increase as of November 22, as overall inventories rose by 1.6 million barrels to 452.0 million, a 3% increase from the typical late-autumn average of the past five years.