LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Thursday, supported by reports that key members of OPEC were starting to cut production and by forecasts of strong demand growth in China.
Brent crude was up 50 cents at $55.60 a barrel by 1050 GMT. U.S. crude was up 35 cents at $52.60.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in November to cut oil production to try to reduce a global supply glut that has depressed prices for more than two years. Several OPEC members appear to be implementing the deal.
"Reports are emerging that OPEC signatories to the production cut agreement have already commenced reducing output," said Daniel Hynes, commodities analyst at ANZ Research.
Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Thursday said the OPEC deal would accelerate the rebalancing of the global oil market and that prices would respond later this year.
Falih told a conference in Abu Dhabi global demand for oil would grow by well over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2017 and the market would tighten in two to three years.
Kuwaiti Oil Minister Essam Al-Marzouq told the conference Kuwait had already cut its oil output by more than it promised under the OPEC deal, without giving further details.
Iraq oil minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi told reporters Iraq was "hoping for a better price". Iraq had reduced its oil exports by 170,000 bpd and was cutting them by a further 40,000 bpd this week, he said.
BMI Research said overall "compliance to the OPEC/non-OPEC oil production cut appears to be positive ... We calculate compliance with production cuts at around 73 percent," led by high compliance from members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, namely Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Prices were also lifted by news of record Chinese car sales, which grew by 13.7 percent between 2015 and 2016 to 28 million sold vehicles.
Reflecting China's growing fuel consumption, its net crude imports will rise 5.3 percent to 396 million tonnes (around 8 million bpd) in 2017, state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said on Thursday. Its crude demand will hit a record 594 million tonnes this year (around 12 million bpd), CNPC said.
In the United States, traders said an inventory report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday implied oversupply as crude stocks unexpectedly rose by 4.1 million barrels to 483.11 million barrels.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; editing by Jason Neely and Adrian Croft)