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Oil prices steady near year-and-a-half lows after profit-taking

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices steadied on Friday after a week of volatile trading, shedding early gains on profit-taking ahead of the New Year holiday and pressured by concerns of oversupply and faltering global economic growth.

FILE PHOTO: A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour by the Department of Energy at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Richard Carson

Brent crude LCOc1 futures were down 15 cents to $52.01 a barrel by 11:29 a.m. EST (1629 GMT), having earlier risen to $53.80 a barrel.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures rose 15 cents to $44.76 a barrel, after reaching $46.22 a barrel earlier.

Both benchmarks are set for their third straight week of losses, with Brent on track to drop about 3.4 percent and WTI set to fall nearly 2 percent.

Oil prices fell to their lowest levels in a year and a half this week and are down more than 20 percent for the year, depressed by rising supply and concerns about the health of the global economy.

U.S. crude inventories USOILC=ECI were down by 46,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 21, the Energy Information Administration said on Friday.

Gasoline stocks USOILG=ECI rose by 3 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a gain of 28,000 barrels.

“The report was modestly bearish, as crude oil stocks held steady versus expectations of a sizeable decline,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. “The net effect of the report should keep prices fairly flat ahead of the weekend.”

The United States has emerged as the world’s biggest crude producer this year, pumping 11.6 million barrels per day (bpd), more than both Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil production has been at or near record highs in the three countries.

Earlier this month, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million bpd, or more than 1 percent of global consumption, starting in January.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday that Russia would cut its crude output by between 3 million and 5 million tonnes in the first half of 2019 as part of the deal.

Novak also told reporters the U.S. decision to allow some countries to trade Iranian oil after putting Tehran under sanctions was one of the key factors behind the OPEC deal.

Imports of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit their lowest level in more than five years in November as the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports took effect last month, government and ship-tracking data showed.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York, Christopher Johnson and Noah Browning in London and Jane Chung in Seoul; Editing by David Evans and Paul Simao

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