Brent crude oil steadied today, on track for its strongest first quarter in eight years, thanks to a growing belief among investors that OPEC's supply cuts will prevent a build-up in unused fuel.

However concern over China's economy offset gains. 

Brent futures were last down six cents at $66.19 a barrel this afternoon, having touched a 2019 high of $66.83, while US futures were up 37 cents at $55.96 a barrel. 

Oil has risen nearly 25% so far this year and is on course for its strongest first-quarter performance since 2011, thanks largely to a commitment by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies to cut output. 

Refiners around the world are also having to pay more to secure supplies of the medium, or heavy, sour crudes produced by Iran and Venezuela, both of which are under US sanctions. 

The broader financial markets eased a little after data showing a drop in Chinese car sales in January raised concerns about the world's second-largest economy.

Some of this weakness rubbed off on the oil market, but analysts said the overall trend in crude prices remained convincingly upwards for now. 

"There are lots of 'ifs' and 'buts' that could have a profound impact on oil prices; just think of the unpredictable Donald Trump, Brexit, trade talks or an eventual pick-up in Libyan and/or Venezuelan production," PVM Oil Associates analyst Tamas Varga said. 

"Latest available data, however, point in the direction of a tightening market. It is not recommended to swim against the current and presently the 'oil' river is flowing north." 

US energy companies last week increased the number of oil rigs looking for new supply by three to a total of 857, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in a report last Friday.