NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil hit a fresh six-month high on Tuesday, bolstered by U.S. consumer confidence data and comments from OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia that prices may continue to rise.
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told journalists ahead of Thursday’s OPEC meeting he hoped oil prices would hit $75 a barrel between the third and fourth quarters of this year, well above lows in December below $33 a barrel.
OPEC ministers meeting in Vienna are expected to leave output levels unchanged on expectations prices will continue to rise despite swollen stockpiles and slumping demand.
U.S. crude oil rose 78 cents to settle at $62.45 a barrel, the highest settlement since November 5, after trading up to $62.50 — the highest intraday trade since November 10. There was no floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday due to the U.S. Memorial Day holiday.
London Brent crude settled up $1.03 at $61.24 a barrel.
“The stock market rose on higher consumer confidence data, pushing oil futures up,” said Andy Lebow, broker for MF Global in New York.
“A comment from the Saudi Arabian oil minister about prices rising to $75 a barrel later this year is also supportive.”
U.S. consumer confidence rose in May to its highest level in eight months, jumping to 54.9 in May from a revised 40.8 in April, the Conference Board said.
The data helped lift U.S. stocks higher, rising hopes the economic downturn may be easing.
The economic crisis has hit crude demand, sending oil prices off record highs near $150 a barrel struck in July, prompting OPEC to agree a series of cuts since September aimed at reducing output by 4.2 million barrels per day (bpd).
Saudi minister Naimi said the cartel was likely to stay the course when it meets on Thursday. But he could not say if there was consensus between all members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Naimi said he hoped oil demand would recover in the second half of 2008, and added there was already a slight “uptick” in fuel consumption.
Militant action in OPEC producer Nigeria has also supported prices. Nigerian militants launched a major strike against the oil industry late on Sunday, bombing a Chevron Corp pipeline and shutting 100,000 bpd of output.
A Reuters poll of analysts forecast oil prices will average $52.47 a barrel this year, up from $50.85 in April.
A separate Reuters poll forecast weekly inventory data will show crude oil stocks fell by 1.1 million barrels in the week to May 22, while gasoline inventories were seen down by 1.8 million barrels.
Due to the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, the American Petroleum Institute data will be delayed by one day until Wednesday while U.S. Energy Information Administration oil inventory data will be released on Thursday.
Reporting by Matthew Robinson, Robert Gibbons, Gene Ramos in New York; Jane Merriman in London; Fayen Wong in Perth; Editing by David Gregorio