LONDON - Oil rose on Thursday, supported by expectations of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran, declining output in Venezuela and continuing strong demand.
Brent crude oil futures were up 59 cents at $74.59 a barrel at 1354 GMT, having touched a session high of $74.97, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 23 cents to $68.28 a barrel.
The oil price has risen by 15 percent in the last four weeks thanks to expectations that the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer and member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he expected U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a deal with Iran reached in 2015 in which the Islamic Republic suspended its nuclear programme in return for Western powers lifting crippling sanctions.
Trump will decide by May 12 whether to restore U.S. sanctions on Tehran, which would probably result in a reduction of Iranian oil exports.
"Geopolitical concerns in the Middle East, together with Venezuela’s deteriorating macroeconomic situation, are supporting oil prices. It is widely anticipated that President Trump will pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, which is bullish for prices", said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy's Global Gas Analytics.
"However, (the) full impact of the move will not materialise unless it is supported by European allies of the U.S."
Venezuela's crude production has fallen from almost 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in early 2016 to around 1.5 million bpd due to a political and economic crisis.
Plunging Venezuelan output and looming U.S. sanctions against Iran come against a backdrop of strong demand, above all in Asia, the world's biggest oil-consuming region.
However, not all market indicators point towards tighter supplies.
U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 2.2 million barrels in the week to April 20 to 429.74 million barrels.
U.S. crude production rose by 46,000 bpd on the previous week, to 10.59 bpd.
Soaring U.S. output has made WTI crude around $6 per barrel cheaper than Brent and drawn exports to record highs.
Dutch bank ING said "the wide discount for WTI to Brent saw exports rising 582,000 bpd week-on-week to a record high of 2.33 million bpd."
With U.S. output and exports surging, some analysts warn that the 20 percent climb in Brent prices since February is starting to look overdone.
"The market does look a little toppish," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.