OPEC Keeps Output Steady

Oil held firm on Thursday after OPEC agreed at its meeting in Vienna to make no change to its existing oil production levels as widely expected.

U.S. crude stood eight cents up at $58.24 a barrel by 1314 GMT. London April Brent crude was up 22 cents at $61.28.

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Iraqi oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani said OPEC had agreed to leave its output unchanged.

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, source of more than a third of the world's oil, has already cut output by 1.7 million barrels a day at its previous two meetings.

Prices rose modestly on Wednesday after U.S. inventory data revealed a further fall in U.S. gasoline stocks ahead of the approaching driving season.

But gains were limited by a wave of selling across equity markets, where concerns the world economy could be weakening resurfaced after troubles in the U.S. mortgage markets.

The possible impact of an economic slowdown on oil demand has also worried OPEC ministers.

"The global economy is slowing down. China is cooling off, India is cooling off, even the U.S. that is the engine," Nigerian Energy Minister Edmund Daukoru told reporters.

"If you put all the factors together, including non-OPEC growth it is bearish, so we are looking to implement the full cuts," he said.

Ali al-Naimi, oil minister of the most influential OPEC member Saudi Arabia, said in comments published on Thursday that there was no need for OPEC to change output at the meeting started at 1000 GMT in Vienna, as the previous two cuts had been "good and appropriate."

"The state of the market is comfortable and there is no need to change output," Naimi said in comments to the London-based al-Hayat newspaper.

"Overall oil inventories in the States are much below a year ago level. Gasoline especially is in everyone's focus ahead of summer," said Tony Nunan, a manager at Mitsubishi Corp.'s risk management unit.

The latest snapshot of inventories in the United States, the world's biggest oil consumer, showed a 2.5 million barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles last week from the week before.

U.S. commercial crude stocks rose a modest 1.1 million barrel on week, but the level was more than 16 million barrels lower than a year earlier.

Traders are also watching OPEC member Iran's nuclear dispute with the West. Major powers reached broad agreement on Wednesday on a package of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but a Security Council vote is not expected until next week.

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