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Oil rises 2% as no immediate Saudi output boost expected

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil gained 2.5% on Friday after a U.S. official told Reuters that an immediate Saudi oil output boost was not expected, and as investors question whether OPEC has the room to significantly ramp up crude production.

The comment during U.S. President Joe Biden's Middle East visit comes at a time when spare capacity at members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is running low.

"Part of the support is that everybody and their brother who digs down into the Saudi situation see that they don't have a lot of capacity left," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

Brent crude futures settled at $101.16 a barrel, rising $2.06, or 2.1%, while West Texas Intermediate crude settled at $97.59 a barrel, gaining $1.81, or 1.9%.

Both benchmarks saw their biggest weekly percentage drops in about a month, largely on fears earlier in the week that a nearing recession would chop away at demand. Brent lost 5.5% in its third weekly drop, while WTI was down 6.9% in its second weekly decline.

Biden, prompted by energy and security interests, arrived in Jeddah on Friday and had been expected to call for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil.

But the United States does not expect Saudi Arabia to immediately boost oil production and is eyeing the outcome of the next OPEC+ meeting on Aug. 3, a U.S. official told Reuters.

"If the market was expecting an announcement between President Biden and (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed Bin Salman that oil production was going to be increased, they were sorely disappointed," said Andrew Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

"But I do think that in the upcoming weeks, especially at an upcoming OPEC meeting, we might see production increases out of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

The United States could still secure a commitment that OPEC will boost production in the months ahead in hopes that it will provide a signal to the market that supplies are coming if necessary.

Meanwhile, the U.S. oil rig count, an early indicator of future output, inched up by two to 599 this week to their highest since March 2020, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said.

Also signalling more oil supply on the horizon was Libya's oil chief, who said crude output will resume after meeting groups that have blockaded the country's oil facilities for months.

Lifting force majeure on production could mean a return of 850,000 barrels per day.

On the economic front, the U.S. Federal Reserve's most hawkish policymakers on Thursday said they favoured a rate increase of 75 basis points at its policy meeting this month, not the bigger increase traders had priced in after a report on Wednesday showed inflation was accelerating.

Concerns that the Fed might opt for a full 100 bps rate rise this month and weak economic data had led to Brent and WTI shedding more than $5 on Thursday to below the closing price on Feb. 23, the day before Russia invaded Ukraine, though both contracts clawed back nearly all the losses by the end of the session.

Analysts, however, expect continued pressure on oil from concerns over the global economy.

"Brent has dipped noticeably below $100 per barrel this week. It is likely to continue sliding given that the recession fears will presumably not abate for the time being," Commerzbank said in a note.

Bearish market sentiment has also followed renewed COVID-19 outbreaks in China, which have hampered a demand recovery.

China's refinery throughput in June shrank nearly 10% from a year earlier, with output for the first half of the year down 6% in the first annual decline for the period since at least 2011, data showed on Friday.

(This story refiles to remove repeated line of text)

(Additional reporting by Rowena Edwards in London, Jeslyn Lerh in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Susan Fenton and Chizu Nomiyama)