Futures Movers: Oil futures jump nearly 14% for the month

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Markets/commodities reporter

Markets reporter

Oil futures edged higher on Thursday, with prices ending the month of March nearly 14% higher—their best monthly performance in almost a year.

“The biggest reasons for oil’s recent strength has been a combination of short covering, dollar weakness and hopes of a production freeze,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData. “The likelihood of these scenarios unraveling going forward is pretty high, hence so is a selloff.”

West Texas Intermediate crude oil for May CLK6, -0.42%  tacked on 2 cents to settle at $38.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices, based on the most-active contracts, were about 13.5% higher for the month, according to FactSet data. That was the largest monthly climb since April 2015. Prices were up about 3.5% for the first quarter of the year.

On its expiration day, May Brent LCOK6, +0.79% added 34 cents, or 0.9%, to $39.60 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange. Prices were roughly 8% higher for the quarter, based on the most-active contracts.

Read: 5 reasons oil saw the biggest monthly gain in nearly a year

Thursday’s move follows U.S. crude-supply data out on Wednesday that showed a 2.3-million-barrel weekly rise in stockpiles.

It marked a seventh straight weekly climb to a near-record high of 534.8 million barrels, but the increase was smaller than some market forecasts. So “behind that number, there are more signs that we are going to, at some point, change the trend of rising supply,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group.

Oil prices managed to barely break a five-session losing streak Wednesday, on the back of a fall in weekly U.S. crude production.

Oil prices have rebounded in recent weeks since their lows below $30 a barrel earlier this year following weeks of declines in U.S. output and expectations that major producers will agree to supply limits at an April 17 meeting in Qatar.

“The looming mid-April supply meeting is having some impact and we’ll have to wait until the latter stages of the month to see what came out of that,” Matthew Parry, senior oil analyst at the International Energy Agency, told MarketWatch.

Back on Nymex, natural-gas futures ended lower after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that supplies of the commodity fell by 25 billion cubic feet for the week ended March 25.

Analysts polled by Platts forecast a decline of between 20 billion and 24 billion cubic feet. Some analysts, however, have said that the supply fall is likely to be the last one of the so-called withdrawal season — the time of year when heating demand for the commodity draws down supplies.

May natural gas NGK16, -1.70%  fell by 3.7 cents, or 1.9%, to $1.959 per million British thermal units after trading above the $2 mark before the supply data. For the quarter, prices lost over 16%, but they gained over 14% for the month.

Read: Natural-gas prices up 14% in March, but the gains aren’t built to last

The April contracts for the petroleum products, meanwhile, expired at the settlement. April gasoline RBJ6, -1.59%  ended at $1.427 a gallon, down a penny, while April heating oil HOJ6, +1.52%  added 2.5 cents, or 2.2%, to $1.185 a gallon. Based on the most-active contracts, gasoline prices were up over 13% and heating oil saw a gain of about 5.5% for the quarter.

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