hurricanes later this year could damage Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines, choking off supplies.

For now, though, the steady drop in the cost of fuel offers Americans a reprieve.

“If gasoline prices stay at or near the levels they have reached, that would mean much more cushion for households,” Ms. Bovino said.

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Oil tops $120 a barrel on Saudi pricing despite OPEC+ deal

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A drilling rig operates in the Permian Basin oil and natural gas production area in Lea County, New Mexico, U.S., February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

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  • Saudi Arabia raises official prices for Asian buyers
  • OPEC+ unlikely to reach increased output target -JP Morgan
  • WTI hits highest since early March

June 6 (Reuters) – Oil prices settled slightly lower after choppy trade on Monday, buoyed by Saudi Arabia raising its July crude prices but amid doubts that a higher output target for OPEC+ oil producers would ease tight supply.

Brent crude fell 21 cents, or 0.2%, to settle at $119.51 a barrel after touching an intraday high of $121.95.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 37 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $118.50 a barrel after hitting a three-month high of $120.99. The benchmark fell by $1 earlier in the session.

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Saudi Arabia raised the July official selling price (OSP) for its flagship Arab light crude to Asia by $2.10 from June to a $6.50 premium over Oman/Dubai quotes, just off an all-time peak recorded in May when prices hit highs due to worries of disruptions in supplies from Russia. read more

The price increase followed a decision last week by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+, to boost output for July and August by 648,000 barrels per day, or 50% more than previously planned, though constraint in global refining capacity has kept prices elevated.

“Crude inputs into the U.S. refineries have been reduced by about 6% from four years ago at this time with this reduction associating with a need for less crude cover while contributing to a severe tightness in the gasoline and diesel markets,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois.

The increased target was spread across all OPEC+ members, many of which have little room to increase output and which include Russia, which faces Western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine in February.

“With only a handful of … OPEC+ participants with spare capacity, we expect the increase in OPEC+ output to be about 160,000 barrels per day in July and 170,000 bpd in August,” JP Morgan analysts said in a note.

On Monday, Citibank and Barclays raised their price forecasts for 2022 and 2023, saying they expected Russian output and exports to fall by around 1 million to 1.5 million bpd by end-2022. read more

Separately, Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol could begin shipping small volumes of Venezuelan oil to Europe as soon as next month, five people familiar with the matter told Reuters. read more

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Reporting by Laura Sanicola; Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in London, Florence Tan in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Jason Neely, Will Dunham and Chris Reese

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Biden will tap oil reserve, hoping to push gasoline prices down.

Energy experts said the reserve release would pack more punch if other countries, like China, also sold oil from their stockpiles. The International Energy Agency, an organization of more than 30 countries, will meet Friday and may recommend further releases from national reserves.

Russian oil exports normally represent more than one of every 10 barrels the world consumes. The United States, Britain and Canada have stopped importing Russian oil, and many oil companies and shippers in Europe have voluntarily stopped buying Russia’s energy products. That has produced a deficit so far of about three million barrels a day.

The average price of regular gasoline in the United States is $4.23 a gallon, according to AAA, the motor club. That’s about the same as it was a week ago but up 62 cents a gallon in the last month.

Oil prices had dropped this week after peace talks between Russia and Ukraine showed the first signs of progress. Energy traders are also concerned that demand could fall as China, the world’s largest oil importer, imposes lockdowns in Shanghai and other places to deal with coronavirus outbreaks.

“The price effect is likely to be short term,” David Goldwyn, who was a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, said about Mr. Biden’s announcement. “But part of the benefit of this release is that it will provide a bridge to when new physical supply comes online in the second half of this year from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and other countries.”

Some environmentalists criticized the reserve release. “Putting more oil on the market is not the solution to our problem but the perpetuation of our problem,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said releasing reserves to ease shortages would not imperil the transition to clean energy. “What the last month has told us is that if there is no energy security today, the appetite for taking hard steps on the path of transition will evaporate,” she said.

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High Gas Prices Force Sacrifices, Like Travel and Dining Out

A driver in Belleville, N.J., cut his cable and downsized his apartment to save money for gas. A retiree in Vallejo, Calif., said he had stopped driving to go fishing because the miles cost too much in fuel. An auto repairman in Toms River, N.J., doesn’t go to restaurants as often. And an Uber Eats deliveryman said he couldn’t afford frequent visits to his family and friends, some of whom live 60 miles away.

“Times are tough right now,” Chris Gonzalez, 31, the Uber Eats driver, said as he filled up his tank at a Safeway gas station off Interstate 80 in California.

Millions of American drivers have acutely felt the recent surge in gas prices, which last month hit their highest level since 2014. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Even after a recent price dip in crude oil, gasoline remains 7 cents more per gallon than it was a month ago.

While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.

survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

instructed the Federal Trade Commission this week to investigate why prices at the pump haven’t declined as much as might be expected, citing the possibility of “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies. The administration is also facing calls from Congress to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said would help struggling Americans.

Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell precipitously in the early months of the pandemic, so the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations cut production. In the United States, reduced demand led to a substantial decline in drilling; the country’s oil rig count was down nearly 70 percent in summer 2020.

But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than OPEC restored its production, and crude oil prices doubled to as much as $84 a barrel. (Since Nov. 9, the price has declined to just over $76.)

higher in the past; in 2008, the national average rose above $4.10 per gallon. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to $5.16 today.) They’re optimistic that the increase in travel and gas demand is a reflection of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic, though they worry that rising prices could make people cut back on other spending.

“If gas prices rise so much that it affects consumers’ disposable incomes, this would weigh on discretionary spending,” said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at ThinkMarkets. “It would be bad news for retailers.”

In California, where the average price of a gallon is the highest in the nation, at more than $4.60, drivers said they were changing their behavior. Some sought out cheaper spots, like Costco and Safeway gas stations, to save a few dollars.

At an Arco station in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a line of cars extended into the crowded street on Thursday. Some drivers searched for change. Others grumbled about the prices, which have shot up to as much as $4.49 at the Arco — known locally for its normally cheap rates — and up to $5.85 in the most expensive part of the city.

Keith Crawford, 57, who was filling up his Kia Optima, said he had taken to getting smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.

“You have to spread it out in order to stay afloat,” said Mr. Crawford, a concierge. “It’s part of the budget now.”

Thirty miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, drivers lined up at the Safeway gas station off I-80, where the price was $4.83 per gallon. Several put the blame for their bills on the Biden administration.

“It’s Biden, Gavin Newsom — look at the gas taxes we pay,” said Kevin Altman, a 54-year-old retiree, referring to California’s governor.

Mr. Altman paid $50 to fill up his Jeep and estimated the gas would last him just two days. He said he had stopped driving to go fishing in nearby Benicia to avoid using too much gas, and would do all his Christmas shopping online this year.

The cost can be especially challenging for people who own businesses that depend on transit. Mahmut Sonmez, 33, who runs a car service, spends nearly $800 on gas out of the $2,500 he earns each week driving people around New Jersey. To save money, he moved in September into a Belleville apartment that is $400 cheaper than his previous home. He also cut his cable service and changed cellphone plans.

If gas prices keep rising, Mr. Sonmez said, he will consider changing jobs after nine years in the industry. “Somehow we’ve got to pay the rent,” he said.

In New Jersey, which bans self-service gas, some drivers are directing their ire toward station attendants.

“Every day they’re cursing me out,” said Gaby Marmol, 25, the assistant manager of a BP station in Newark, adding that when she sees how much the customers spend on both gas and convenience store items — $1.19 for ring pops that used to be 50 cents — she feels sympathetic. “We’re just doing our jobs, but they think we set the prices.”

Cheik Diakite, 62, an attendant at a Mobil station in Newark, doesn’t get as many tips as he did before the pandemic, he said, and grows frustrated listening to customers attribute the high prices to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Diakite typically passes afternoons by looking out for his most loyal customers. Bebi Amzad, who works at a nearby school, always has the same request for him: “Fill it up.” But when she pulled in on Thursday, she asked him to give her just $30 worth of gas.

“Today I’m not filling up all the way because I have other expenses,” said Ms. Amzad, 54, who commutes to Newark from Linden, N.J. “Everybody is hurting.”

Because she spends so much on gas and groceries, Ms. Amzad continued, she can’t afford many indulgences. “I don’t go to Marshalls anymore.”

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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As Western Oil Giants Cut Production, State-Owned Companies Step Up

Kuwait announced last month that it planned to invest more than $6 billion in exploration over the next five years to increase production to four million barrels a day, from 2.4 million now.

This month, the United Arab Emirates, a major OPEC member that produces four million barrels of oil a day, became the first Persian Gulf state to pledge to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. But just last year ADNOC, the U.A.E.’s national oil company, announced it was investing $122 billion in new oil and gas projects.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, has invested heavily in recent years to boost oil output, aiming to raise production to eight million barrels a day by 2027, from five million now. The country is suffering from political turmoil, power shortages and inadequate ports, but the government has made several major deals with foreign oil companies to help the state-owned energy company develop new fields and improve production from old ones.

Even in Libya, where warring factions have hamstrung the oil industry for years, production is rising. In recent months, it has been churning out 1.3 million barrels a day, a nine-year high. The government aims to increase that total to 2.5 million within six years.

National oil companies in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are also working to produce more oil and gas to raise revenue for their governments before demand for oil falls as richer countries cut fossil fuel use.

After years of frustrating disappointments, production in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, oil and gas field in Argentina has jumped this year. The field had never supplied more than 120,000 barrels of oil in a day but is now expected to end the year at 200,000 a day, according to Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. The government, which is considered a climate leader in Latin America, has proposed legislation that would encourage even more production.

“Argentina is concerned about climate change, but they don’t see it primarily as their responsibility,” said Lisa Viscidi, an energy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research organization. Describing the Argentine view, she added, “The rest of the world globally needs to reduce oil production, but that doesn’t mean that we in particular need to change our behavior.”

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Saudis keep control of the oil market despite a production increase.

For months, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, arguably the most powerful individual in the oil business, has urged his fellow producers to keep a tight rein on output, fearing additional crude could flood the world’s markets and cause prices to drop. At the same time, some producers, notably Russia, have been chafing to open the spigot a bit more.

On Thursday, the prince seemed to relent, as the group called OPEC Plus — the members of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies like Russia — agreed to modest output increases over the next three months.

Analysts said the prince, who is the chair of OPEC Plus, appeared to be calculating that by appeasing other producers who want to produce more oil, he can remain in control over the longer term.

The prince repeated his go-slow message on Thursday, arguing that the global economic recovery from the pandemic remained fragile, and so his willingness to sign off on an increase came as something of a surprise. But the decision seemed to be an acknowledgment of the diversity of opinions within OPEC Plus, and that he must take the views of other key producers like Russia and the United Arab Emirates into account to maintain leadership and to keep them from going their own way.

“It is not my decision, it is everybody’s decision,” he said at a news conference after Thursday’s OPEC Plus meeting.

So far traders have signaled their approval by pushing up prices in what had been a weak market. On Friday, Brent crude, the international benchmark was up about 3.4 percent to $64.86 a barrel.

Under the deal agreed Thursday, OPEC Plus will gradually increase production by 350,000 barrels a day in May and June and 441,000 barrels a day in July. Over the same period, the Saudis will also relax the one million barrels a day they have been voluntarily keeping off the market, bringing the total increase to about 2.1 million barrels a day by July.

The plan “points to a still cautious and orderly ramp-up from OPEC Plus, still allowing for a tight oil market,” rather than a flood, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.

OPEC Plus also retain the option of adjusting output at monthly meetings. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter, can also take unilateral decisions to trim supplies.

This ability to quickly backtrack “provides the prince with comfort that he is exercising a fairly low-risk option,” Helima Croft, a strategist at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients.

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OPEC and Its Allies Agree toGradual Increases in Oil Production

OPEC and its allies, including Russia, announced on Thursday they would gradually increase oil production over the next three months.

In agreeing to modest output increases, Saudi Arabia appears to have yielded to pressure from Russia and other producers who are eager to raise output. They want to take advantage of what they see as a likely growing global thirst for oil as economies slowly expand after pandemic lockdowns.

The group, known as OPEC Plus, has been withholding eight million barrels a day from the market.

On this occasion, the Saudis “decided to go with the consensus of the members,” said Helima Croft, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank.

A call on Wednesday from the new U.S. secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, may also have had some impact, although the Saudi official denied that the oil markets had been discussed.

wrote on Twitter.

Under the agreement, OPEC Plus will increase production by 350,000 barrels a day in both May and June and by 441 thousand barrels a day in July. Over the same period, Saudi Arabia will gradually unwind additional cuts of one million barrels a day that it has been making voluntarily.

Prince Abdulaziz said during a news conference after the meeting that OPEC Plus wanted to test out increased production but would still be able to change plans if demand failed to materialize.

“We can freeze; we can increase; we can decrease,” he said.

For now, the oil market has accepted the prospect of increases that would amount to less than 1 percent of global consumption per month. Larry Goldstein, an oil analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, said that the approach to relaxing cuts was “very modest and conservative” and would tend to bolster prices over the coming months.

In addition, Ms. Croft said, OPEC’s willingness to increase output is seen as a vote of confidence in the global economic recovery.

France’s reimposition of a national lockdown, announced Wednesday, underlines persistent doubts about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, as have rising case numbers in the United States.

But other producers, including Russia and the United Arab Emirates, have been pushing for increased production.

At the beginning of the meeting, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Alexander Novak, who is co-chair of OPEC Plus, said that the market had “considerably improved” since its meeting last month. He estimated that demand now exceeded supply by about two million barrels a day, a deficit that would lead to a rapid draw down of inventories, potentially leading to higher prices.

Prince Abdulaziz emphasized that he had good rapport with Mr. Novak — a big difference from a year ago, he said, when the two countries clashed in a market-wrenching price war.

“We talk to each other more often than talking to our own families,” the prince said.

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Saudi Aramco’s Profit Fell 44 Percent in 2020

Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, said on Sunday that its net income last year had fallen by 44 percent, to $49 billion, as lower oil prices stemming from the pandemic cut into earnings.

The company’s chief executive, Amin H. Nasser, described 2020 in a statement accompanying the earnings data as “one of the most challenging years in recent history.”

But Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, said that it would stick by a pledge to pay a $75 billion dividend. Nearly all of the payment will go to the Saudi government, which owns about 98 percent of the company.

The company was listed on the local Tadawul exchange in 2019 in the largest valuation for an initial public offering.

a price war with Russia. The surge led the company to hit a record production levels of 12.1 million barrels a day in April and also contributed to a glut of oil and a sharp fall in global prices.

More recently, Aramco has been throttling back production under an agreement with other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as Russia and some other producers, a group called OPEC Plus. In January, Saudi Arabia said it would cut an additional 1 million barrels a day below the quota agreed with OPEC Plus, a policy which it is continuing. Average production for 2020 was 9.2 million barrels a day.

The data released on Sunday showed that Aramco is paying out more money in dividends than it is earning from oil activities. Free cash flow, a measure of earnings produced after expenses, was also $49 billion, meaning, in effect, the company was borrowing $26 billion to pay shareholders.

In another reflection of last year’s tumult in the oil markets, the company also cut capital spending by 18 percent compared with 2019, to $27 billion. Aramco said it expected capital expenditures in 2021 to be around $35 billion, less than its previous guidance of $40 billion to $45 billion.

Aramco in recent years has held the prize as the world’s most profitable company. But the impact of the pandemic, which briefly caused some oil futures to fall below zero, plus the appeal of tech products and services while people worked from home, has let Apple surge ahead. Apple’s net income for its fiscal year 2020, which ended Sept. 26, was $57 billion.

The earnings statement on Sunday was limited to a few highlights. Saudi Aramco is expected to provide more details during a call with financial analysts on Monday.

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