Updated from 2:57 p.m. EST

Oil prices closed higher for the first time this week, but to hear industry watchers tell it, reports of possible new OPEC production cuts weren't much of a factor in the rally.

Near-dated contracts for light, sweet crude ended the session up $1.11 at $52.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The iPath Goldman Sachs Crude Oil ( OIL) exchange-traded fund was up 0.8%.

Natural gas futures also rose, up 31 cents at $6.60 per million British thermal units. Heating oil gained 2 cents at $1.50 a gallon, while gasoline added 4 cents at $1.43 a gallon.

Dampening any chance of a major rally was evidence that OPEC's proposed reductions in crude output haven't materialized.

"The 1.2 million barrels per day targeted by OPEC for the November round of cuts will not be reached," states a new report from the Oil Movements newsletter.

A subsequent announcement said 500,000 barrels a day of additional production would be shut down starting in February.

However, because traders know that OPEC nations don't always follow through on planned cuts, they took little notice when reports emerged that the oil-exporting group might hold an emergency meeting to discuss further reductions.

"As of right now, we still have sellers on any rally," says Frank Lesh, an analyst at Chicago-based Future Path Trading. "There was news of tanker loadings being up quite a bit. That's just the opposite of what OPEC is telling us."

"There's just a very bearish situation," says Lesh, noting "skepticism" among market participants, with some short-covering fueling the slight advance.

That's the sort of talk that has one observer thinking the market could be reaching an inflection point.

"It's a liquidation," says Woody Dorsey, a behavioral market strategist at Market Semiotics. "What we have at the end of 'a liquidation' is a capitulation. And I think we are very close to that," meaning oil prices might bottom out shortly.

He notes that oil is still in a secular bull market but is suffering from the effects of sector rotation as fund managers switch money away from energy and into agricultural futures.

Turning to the energy patch, Oppenheimer initiated coverage of small-cap EV Energy Partners ( EVEP) with a buy rating and a stock price target of $27 a share. The shares rose 0.2% to $23.18.

CIBC World Markets kicked off covering Spectra Energy ( SE) with a rating of sector-perform and a target of $28. The stock lost 1.4%.

Elsewhere, BP ( BP) rallied 5% on news that CEO John Browne would step down in July, 18 months sooner than had previously been anticipated.

Shares of Exxon Mobil ( XOM), the world's biggest publicly traded oil company, were up 2.4%.