US oil prices end above $60 for 1st time in more than two years

US oil prices finished above $60 a barrel for the first time since June 2015 after new data suggested American producers were being cautious about ramping up output.

The benchmark US contract, West Texas Intermediate for February delivery, climbed 58 cents to finish at $60.42 a barrel. Meanwhile, Brent North Sea crude for March delivery advanced 71 cents to $66.87 a barrel.

The jump came as the number of US rigs drilling for oil held steady at 747 this week, according to the Baker Hughes rig count, a closely-watched benchmark of industry activity released Friday.

Phil Flynn, of the Price Futures Group in Chicago, said it was not clear from the data whether the flat number of drilling rigs reflected “an end of the year slowdown,” or “a sign that maybe producers are not producing that much.”

The data come on heels of a bullish US oil inventory report that showed lower crude oil supplies as well as a dip in production, according to the weekly Energy Department data released Thursday.

The price increase also follows a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to extend its agreement on production limits through 2018.

Experts have been watching for signs of whether the OPEC agreement triggers increased drilling among US shale producers. (AFP) Photo by