By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices firmed on Thursday, with Brent crude creeping ever closer to $80 per barrel, a level it has not seen since November 2014, as supplies tighten while demand remains strong.
Brent crude futures were at $79.36 per barrel at 0451 GMT, up 8 cents from their last close.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $71.71 a barrel, up 22 cents, or 0.3 percent, from their last settlement.
ANZ bank said on Thursday that Brent was "now threatening to break through $80 per barrel ... (as) geopolitical risks continue to support prices, (and) an unexpected fall in inventories in the U.S. got investors excited yesterday."
U.S. crude inventories dropped by 1.4 million barrels in the week to May 11, to 432.34 million barrels.
ANZ said the falling U.S. inventories were "raising concerns of tight markets heading into the U.S. driving season," during which demand typically rises.
Not all indicators pointed to a tighter market, however.
"A weakening dollar, strong economic growth and low oil price have all supported a tremendous recovery in oil demand over the last few years, clearing the oversupply in the market. With the dollar strengthening, higher oil prices and softening economic growth, we see a threat to demand growth from 2019," BMI Research said on Thursday.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday that it had lowered its global oil demand growth forecast for 2018 from 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.4 million bpd.
The IEA said global oil demand would average 99.2 million bpd in 2018.
And although supplies currently only stand at 98 million bpd due to supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the IEA said "strong non-OPEC growth ... will grow by 1.87 million bpd in 2018."
Leading production increases is the United States, where crude output has soared by 27 percent in the last two years, to a record 10.72 million bpd.
As a result of its surging production, U.S. crude is increasingly appearing on global markets.
It said the economic outlook was also "firmly bearish" as "short-term credit conditions have worsened which ... hasn't been priced correctly by the market".
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