From Bloomberg

Oil prices moved higher as analysts predicted the mounting political crisis in Venezuela could take a chunk out of global crude flows.

Futures rose as much as 1.5 percent in New York. Venezuela, owner of the world’s biggest oil reserves, could see crude production drop by a thirdthis year, analysts at Fitch Solutions said Friday. The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, scheduled a meeting in New York on the turmoil, as the U.S. ordered many of its diplomatic personnel out of the country and considered sanctions on its oil exports.

Tensions flared anew this week as National Assembly leader Juan Guaido moved to oust strongman President Nicolas Maduro, with the backing of the U.S. and other countries. Any slowdown in Venezuela would come atop supply cuts orchestrated by OPEC and Russia this year to boost crude prices.

“There’s an upward bias here, considering there’s supply-side outages and potential ones lurking,” Michael Tran, an RBC Capital Markets LLC commodity strategist, said by telephone. “The market could be tighter than what people previously anticipated.”

Prices also climbed on hopeful economic news. Equity markets ralliedaround the globe on encouraging earnings reports and word that the U.S. Federal Reserve was considering an early halt of efforts to reduce its balance sheet.

Crude had already posted a strong start to the year before the Venezuela flare-up, as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies cut output. Prices have risen around 25 percent from a late December low. But the rally has slowed on fears of weakening global growth, exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade fight and America’s government shutdown. Despite Friday’s gains, oil and equities remained on track for their first losing week of the year.

West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery gained 51 cents, or 1 percent, to $53.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 12:25 p.m.

Brent for March settlement advanced 46 cents to $61.55 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, and traded at a $7.89 premium to WTI. The global benchmark crude has dropped 1.9 percent so far this week.

While the U.S. shale boom has shown some signs of slowing, American supplies are still abundant. U.S. crude stockpiles rose the most since November last week and gasoline inventories climbed to a record, government data showed on Thursday.

Venezuela Risk

A major disruption in Venezuela could be a game-changer.

The OPEC member has already seen its output drop 50 percent in five years as a spiraling economic crisis takes its toll on the oil industry. Even without new U.S. sanctions, Venezuela’s production — currently about 1.2 million barrels a day — may lose a further 300,000 to 500,000 barrels a day, RBC Capital Markets estimates.

Internal conflict could result in a much bigger and longer-lasting disruption. Even if Maduro’s government is replaced, “the road back for Venezuela will be extremely arduous given the depths of the economic and humanitarian crisis,” Tran and fellow RBC analyst Helima Croft wrote in a note.


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