Oil prices rose on Thursday, supported by signs OPEC is starting to cut output and expectations of strong demand growth in China, but rising U.S. crude inventories reinforced concerns over plentiful global supplies.
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Benchmark Brent crude oil was up 50 cents at $55.60 a barrel by 0845 GMT. U.S. crude was up 35 cents a barrel at $52.60.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in November to cut oil production to try to reduce a global supply glut that has depressed prices for more than two years. Several OPEC members appear to be implementing the deal.
"Reports are emerging that OPEC signatories to the production cut agreement have already commenced reducing output," said Daniel Hynes, commodities analyst at ANZ Research.
OPEC member Iraq, which many analysts expected not to reduce supply, said on Thursday it had cut production by 160,000 barrels per day since the beginning of January. By the end of the month, output would be cut by 210,000 bpd, it said.
Dominant OPEC member Saudi Arabia has earmarked some supply reductions for February to China, India and Malaysia and is focusing most of its cuts on Europe and the United States.
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BMI Research said overall "compliance to the OPEC/non-OPEC oil production cut appears to be positive ... (and that) we calculate compliance with production cuts at around 73 percent," led by high compliance from members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, namely Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Prices were also lifted by news of record Chinese car sales, which grew by 13.7 percent between 2015 and 2016 to 28 million sold vehicles.
Reflecting China's growing fuel consumption, its net crude imports will rise 5.3 percent to 396 million tonnes (around 8 million bpd) in 2017, state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said on Thursday. Its crude demand will hit a record 594 million tonnes this year (around 12 million bpd), CNPC said.
In the United States, traders said an inventory report published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday implied ongoing oversupply as crude stocks unexpectedly rose by 4.1 million barrels to 483.11 million barrels.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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