Brent crude prices fell today on rising output from the Middle East and ahead of an OPEC meeting on Thursday, while US crude edged higher as the summer driving season began.
Brent crude oil futures were down 26 cents at $49.50 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures traded nine cents higher at $49.42 a barrel.
Iraq will supply 5 million barrels of extra crude to its international oil company partners in June, industry sources familiar with the issue said, joining other Middle East producers by lifting market share.
Iraq, the second-largest producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, had already been targeting record crude export volumes from southern terminals next month of 3.47 million barrels per day.
Asian imports of Iranian oil rose more than 13% in April from a year before as Tehran vies to recoup market share lost under international sanctions.
OPEC's 13 members will meet in Vienna to set the group's policy, which is expected to focus more on market share than on influencing prices.
Analysts said that anyone betting on a surprise outcome in Thursday’s meeting is "brave" in doing so.
They said that with oil prices trading near $50 a barrel and improving market sentiment on unplanned outages and expectations of draws on crude inventories in the second half of the year, OPEC is under less pressure to act.
One topic on the group's agenda is selecting a new secretary-general to replace Abdullah al-Badri, with Nigeria's Mohammed Barkindo emerging as a front-runner, sources tell Reuters.
Meanwhile, demand in North America is set to pick up as the summer driving season boosts demand, triggering a cut in the amount of open short crude positions that would profit from falling prices.