By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK, Sept 26 – Oil prices eased on Wednesday after U.S. data showed a surprise build in domestic crude inventories, but an impending drop in Iranian exports kept Brent futures above $80 a barrel and on track for a fifth straight quarterly gain.
Global benchmark Brent fell 37 cents to $81.50 a barrel by 10:57 a.m. EDT (1457 GMT). On Tuesday, Brent rose as high as $82.55, the highest since November 2014.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures lost 43 cents to $71.85 a barrel.
U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.9 million barrels in the week to Sept. 21, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. Analysts had expected a decrease of 1.3 million barrels.
Refinery crude runs fell by 901,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed.
“A renewed rise in Cushing, Oklahoma, inventories and a rise in domestic crude oil production added to the bearish tone of the report,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital in New York.
Still, the oil market is bracing for a hit to global supplies from renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran. Brent remains on course for its fifth consecutive quarterly increase, the longest stretch since early 2007 when a six-quarter run led to a record-high price of $147.50 a barrel.
Washington will apply sanctions to halt oil exports from Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), from Nov. 4.
Several big buyers, such as a number of Indian refiners, have signaled they will wind down purchases of Iranian crude, yet the impact on global markets is not yet clear.
U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump, are trying to reassure consumers and investors that enough supply will remain in the oil market and have pushed OPEC to raise output.
In a Tuesday speech at the U.N., Trump reiterated calls on OPEC to pump more oil and stop raising prices. He also accused Iran of sowing chaos and promised further sanctions on the country.
The so-called “OPEC+” group, which includes producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, met over the weekend but did not see the need to add new output.
Commerzbank said in a note that “the latest rise in oil prices is due primarily to Trump himself. … he has focused the market’s attention on the Iran sanctions again, even though the market is adequately supplied at present thanks to the increase in OPEC and Russian production.”
A Nigerian oil industry official said OPEC will act to balance the market after oil prices hit a four-year high, but its options may be limited by available spare capacity.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by David Gregorio and Adrian Croft)