Oil markets stable, but doubts over recent bull run emerge

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices held steady on Thursday after falling late in the previous session, supported by ongoing supply cuts led by OPEC and Russia.

However, traders said a price rally that has pushed up Brent crude futures by more than 40 percent since July may have run its course due to increases in U.S. supplies and some indicators of a demand slowdown.

"Prices may have reached a short-term peak," said Fawad Razaqzada, analyst at futures brokerage Forex.com.

Brent futures were at $63.50 per barrel at 0818 GMT, virtually unchanged from their last close. But that is over $1 off the more than two-year high of $64.65 touched earlier this week.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was at $56.85 per barrel, up 4 cents but also some way off this week's more than two-year high of $57.69 a barrel.

Support continues to come from efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia to withhold supplies in order to tighten the market and prop up prices.

OPEC will discuss output policy during a meeting on Nov. 30, and it is expected the group will extend the current cuts beyond their expiry in March 2018.

"With the OPEC/non-OPEC deal extension beyond March 2018 a certainty, prices may become stronger and temporarily reach the $65-$70 per barrel range in 2018," said energy consultancy FGE.

Despite this, many analysts say the strong price rally of the past months may have run its course, at least for now.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose 2.2 million barrels in the week to Nov. 3, to 457.14 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday, contrary to analysts' expectations for a decrease of 2.9 million barrels.

U.S. crude production inched up 67,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 9.62 million bpd, the highest on record.

And output is set to rise further. Texas issued 997 oil and gas drilling permits last month, up nearly 17 percent versus the same month a year ago, the state's energy regulator said on Wednesday.

On the demand side, global fuel consumption remains strong, although the latest figures from top importer China were below expectations.

"At 7.34 million bpd, China crude oil imports dipped to the lowest level since October last year... The trend could continue for the rest of the year," Barclays bank said.

Key for the last weeks of 2017 is whether traders remain confident about their huge bets on further price rises, or if they sell out, satisfied with recent strong gains.

"It doesn't matter how bullish the fundamentals are ... when an asset goes vertical there is always room for a pullback and consolidation of recent price moves. That's where oil prices find themselves this morning," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at brokerage AxiTrader.

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue)