By Karolin Schaps
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Brent oil prices held near five-month highs on Friday, and were on track for the biggest weekly gain since late July, on forecasts for rising demand and the gradual restart of U.S. oil refineries.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries this week forecast higher demand for its oil in 2018 and pointed to signs of a tighter global market, indicating its deal with non-OPEC states to cut output is helping tackle a glut.
That was followed by a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) saying the glut was shrinking thanks to strong European and U.S. demand, as well as production declines in OPEC and non-OPEC countries.
"Prices have now advanced for the last two weeks off increased demand forecasts from both OPEC and the IEA combined with the near-term demand uplift expected as U.S. oil refineries seek to restart operations post-Hurricane Harvey," analysts at Panmure Gordon said.
Benchmark Brent crude was up 24 cents at $55.49 a barrel at 1322 GMT, in a volatile session that saw it stretch from an intraday low of $54.86 to a high of $55.75 a barrel. The contract was on track for its third straight weekly gain and the highest weekly rise since the end of July.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 3 cents at $49.92 a barrel. The contract looked set for a 5 percent weekly gain, also its strongest in nearly two months.
On Wednesday, 13 of 20 affected U.S. refineries were at or near normal operating rates and another five were restarting or ramping up, according to IHS Markit.
Analysts at HSBC said that despite the U.S. refinery outages, 2017 was set to be an "extremely strong year" for oil demand growth, a key factor underpinning a rise in prices.
"We remain convinced of longer-term upside to crude prices. With the lack of new major project sanctions, we expect conventional non-OPEC supply to start declining post-2018," they said.
They maintained their 2018 and 2019 Brent price assumptions at $65 and $70 a barrel, respectively.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Susan Thomas and Susan Fenton)
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