By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude oil futures steadied on Tuesday as the focus turned to falling inventories in the United States and further output constraints in Venezuela.
Supply disruptions in Venezuela returned to the forefront as two of the country's four crude upgraders are scheduled to undergo maintenance in the next few weeks. The units have the ability to process a combined 700,000 barrels per day, and are used to prepare extra-heavy oil for export.
"Every time there's an update that the situation in Venezuela is, in fact, worsening, it props up the market," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) was up 20 cents at $68.26 by 1:36 p.m. EDT (1736 GMT). It lost 4.2 percent on Monday.
Brent futures rose 55 cents to $72.39 a barrel, after earlier trading as low as $71.35 a barrel, its lowest since April 17. Brent fell 4.6 percent on Monday.
In addition to Venezuela's falling output, traders are also looking at U.S. inventories, which are expected to decline 3.5 million barrels in the week to July 13, according to a preliminary Reuters poll.
The American Petroleum Institute trade group is scheduled to release its weekly stockpile estimates on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT).
The market is seeking clear signals on supply, including whether the United States will release crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve and whether Libya's oil production will rebound following military clashes in late June and early July, said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital in New York.
"You really have to see how much Saudi is going to produce, along with Russia," he said.
Oil prices have fallen by almost 10 percent over the past week as crude export terminals in Libya have reopened and exports from other OPEC countries and Russia have increased.
Production from seven major U.S. shale oil formations is expected to rise by 143,000 bpd to a record 7.47 million bpd in August, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday.
Output is expected to rise in all seven formations.
Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) announced its plans to launch a contract for WTI crude deliverable in Houston, compared with the current WTI contract that has its delivery point at the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub.
The new contract will facilitate crude purchases for foreign buyers who export the crude.
The contract underscores the rising volumes of crude from the Permian that are increasingly available for export.
Also undermining prices is concern that the growing trade dispute between the United States and other major trading blocs, particularly China, could dampen economic activity and squeeze oil demand.
China this week reported slightly slower growth for the second quarter and the weakest expansion in factory activity in June in two years, suggesting a further softening in business conditions in the coming months as trade pressures build.
Beijing's state planning agency said it was still confident of hitting its economic growth target of around 6.5 percent this year, despite views that it faces a bumpy second half as the trade dispute with Washington intensifies.
Goldman Sachs said it expects price volatility to remain elevated, keeping Brent in a $70-$80 per barrel range in the short term.
"Supply shifts, alongside the ongoing surge in Saudi production, create the risk that the oil market moves into surplus" in the third quarter, the report said.
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo and Christopher Johnson in London; Editing by Susan Thomas, Marguerita Choy and Will Dunham)
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Updated Date: Jul 18, 2018 00:05:49 IST