By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices rose on Monday, rebounding from recent losses, on reports that OPEC+ could adjust plans to raise oil production if large consuming countries release crude from their reserves or if the coronavirus pandemic dampens demand.
Brent crude futures rose 81 cents, or 1%, to settle at $79.70 a barrel. WTI crude futures rose 81 cents, or 1%, to settle at $76.75 a barrel.
Prices of the Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude benchmarks fell more than $1 in early trading, hitting their lowest levels since Oct. 1.
Japanese and Indian officials are working on ways to release national reserves of crude oil in tandem with the United States and other major economies to dampen prices, seven government sources with knowledge of the plans told Reuters.
Such an announcement could come as early as Tuesday, according to a source familiar with the discussions, but White House and U.S. energy department officials said no official decision on a release had been made.
The discussions have come after the U.S. government was unable to persuade the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, to pump more oil with major producers arguing the world was not short of crude.
The producer group agreed this month to stick to plans to raise oil output by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) from December.
Oil prices rose after Bloomberg News reported that OPEC+ may alter plans to keep boosting production, citing delegates. Reuters has not verified the report.
"OPEC is sending a signal that if these players do this, they have some barrels they can withhold and will offset the impact of a release," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures in Chicago.
Joseph McMonigle, secretary general of the Riyadh-based International Energy Forum, said on Monday he expects OPEC+ to maintain its plan of adding supplies to the market gradually.
"I see them sticking to their current plan in light of the supply surplus for next year, which is typical for oil markets in the first quarter," he said. "If they are going to make a change, it will be because of unforeseen external factors, such as these lockdowns in Europe, any kind of strategic release, and shifts in jet fuel demand."
Any SPR release would only affect prices for two or three weeks, said Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of consultancy Facts Global Energy.
Citigroup analysts estimated in a note that the United States could release anywhere from 45 million to 60 million barrels from its reserves that would bring forward about 20 million in already approved sales. The bank said a combined release could be at "on the order of 100-120 million bbls or higher."
"An SPR release should now be somewhat priced in, although a larger-than-expected volume could well add further downside pressure to markets; on the other hand, if no SPR release takes place, disappointing market expectations, prices could rebound higher given still-low inventories for crude and products," they wrote.
Worries about demand have been fed by the prospect of national lockdowns in Europe, which has pressured prices.
Austria entered its fourth national lockdown on Monday as Europe again becomes the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Germany could also impose fresh curbs, with politicians debating a lockdown for unvaccinated people.
(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Sonali Paul, Naveen Thukral and Florence Tan in Singapore and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by David Goodman, Alexander Smith, David Gregorio and Mark Porter)
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