Futures Movers: Oil surges higher, posts biggest monthly rise since April 2016

Oil futures erased an early loss, surging into the closing bell as traders finished out July with the biggest monthly percentage gain since April 2016.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in September CLU7, +1.03%  rose 46 cents, or 0.9%, to $50.17 a barrel, its highest close since May 24. For the month, the U.S. benchmark advanced 9%. September Brent crude LCOU7, +2.19%  rose 13 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $52.65 a barrel and notched a monthly gain of 9.9%, its largest since December.

Oil had drifted lower amid choppy trading conditions in earlier activity as investors weighed the potential for the U.S. to impose sanctions against Venezuela — a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and a major exporter of oil to the U.S. — after a referendum over the weekend.

“This could result in a shortage of heavy oil for U.S. refineries given that Saudi Arabia is already shipping less oil to the U.S. Ultimately, however, all these factors led to an increase in speculative positions on rising oil prices,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a Monday note.

The U.S. Treasury on Monday afternoon announced sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, freezing his assets in U.S. jurisdictions. The Trump administration hasn’t yet imposed new sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry.

See: How Venezuela chaos could spark oil rally OPEC has failed to achieve

Sunday’s vote gives Maduro’s government overwhelming powers to redraft the country’s constitution, but the opposition disputed the vote count and the Trump administration said the U.S. wouldn’t recognize the outcome. At least 10 people have died in clashes between protesters and state security forces in the aftermath of the referendum.

Crude oil last week logged a weekly gain of 8.6%, its biggest weekly jump since early December, as prices got a lift from renewed production-curb commitments from OPEC members as well as the uncertainty in Venezuela, declining U.S. oil inventories, a weaker U.S. dollar and other factors, including, perhaps, cutbacks in capital spending plans by U.S. oil producers.

Read: What a constant stream of oil-company spending cuts means for crude prices

“Besides the relentless declines in U.S. oil stocks, changed OPEC rhetoric, Nigerian production issues and the trouble regarding Venezuela, it would seem that the market has also taken a liking to hearing U.S. oil companies cutting their capital budgets,” wrote analysts at JBC Energy, in a Monday note. “In fact, one could say that for all intents and purposes, it felt a bit like they were engaged in unintended OPEC-like market talk.”

That said, JBC noted that the announced cuts “were not exactly focused” on reducing shale operations and that production guidance “didn’t exactly suffer either.” In fact, many of the cuts were announced in the context of a mix of less exploration and continued cost-cutting efforts.

“In other words, we find it very hard to extract a bullish message out of these announcements,” the analysts wrote.

In other energy products Monday, August gasoline RBQ7, +1.90%  rose 2.97 cents, or 1.8%, to $1.7058 a gallon, the highest close since April 18. That left gasoline up 12.6% in July, its largest monthly rise since March 2016.

August heating oil HOQ7, +1.32%  rose 1.22 cents, or 0.7%, to $1.6519 a gallon, its highest close since April 12. For the month, heating oil rose 12%.

September natural gas NGU17, -4.11%  fell 14.7 cents, or 5%, to $2.794 per million British thermal units, the lowest settlement since Feb. 28.

—Jenny W. Hsu and Barbara Kollmeyer contributed to this article

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