Oil retreats, set to become worst-performing asset in 1Q

The rally started earlier in the week, as USA supply data from the Energy Information Administration and disruption in Libyan oil supplies heartened traders. A further reduction in output would do nothing but encourage US companies to ramp up activity at an even faster rate. "Even though there's been skepticism about OPEC and its partners the signs are pointing toward their success".

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 36 cents at $49.99/bbl, slipping back below $50. The contract touched $50.46, the highest since March 9.

Prices for front-month Brent crude futures, the worldwide benchmark for oil, were at $52.83 per barrel early on Friday, down 13 cents from their last close.

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Both crude benchmarks have rebounded from last week's four-month lows, partly after Libyan production dropped by about a third or 250,00 bpd earlier this week due to armed protesters blocking the western oilfields of Sharara and Wafa. The more-active June contract fell 25 cents to $52.88.

"Underpinning the USA inventory numbers (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/oil-prices-rise-to-session-highs-as-eia-reports-drop-in-us-gasoline-supplies-2017-03-29) was a turn in the industrial data, indicating the seasonal ramp in refiner capacity is accelerating", said Chris Kettenmann, chief energy strategist at Macro Risk Advisors. Distillates, which include diesel and heating oil, declined 2.5 million barrels.

Despite, a dip in crude inventories on Wednesday, crude stockpiles remained at record highs - at over 520 million barrels, current crude supplies are up 6% over the past year. In contrast, it had hit a low of 8,428,000 bpd for the week ending July 1, 2016-the lowest level since June 2014. The addition was less than half of the 1.9 million-barrel build forecast by analysts.

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Other oil exporters outside OPEC, including Russian Federation, have also promised to cut production but so far those reductions have been limited.

The market appeared to be searching for a new trading range, brokers said.

The crude import data from Asia's biggest buyers show the scale of the challenge facing Saudi Arabia and Russian Federation, the two countries that are the lynchpins of the November agreement between OPEC and its allies to cut output by 1.8 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) in the first six months of 2017. The OPEC-led supply cuts are gradually restoring the market to balance, the group's Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said in a statement. In March, the contracts posted the biggest monthly losses since July as growing U.S. crude inventories and drilling activity counterbalanced production cuts elsewhere in the world.

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