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By Harshal Barot Crude oil prices rebounded slightly in a choppy week as markets struggled to find a clear direction.

The U.S. oil rig count, an indicator of future production, rose by seven to 798, its highest since April 2015, according to a weekly report from General Electric's Baker Hughes unit.

Crude oil prices have been volatile for much of the week, mirroring broader trends in the equities market.

U.S. inventory data also provided some support as it reported smaller than expected builds of 1.8 million.

In any case the growing U.S. production threatens to undermine OPEC's efforts.

Oil output in the country is already at 10.27 bpd, a record that put the USA just behind Russian Federation and ahead of Saudi Arabia, two of the world's top oil producers.

A FEW days ago, the International Energy Agency reported oil production in the United States was undergoing extraordinary growth. The IEA report suggested that the rise in global oil production, led by the USA, is likely to outpace demand growth in 2018.

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The Saudi energy ministry said that Saudi Aramco's crude output in March will be 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) below its February level while exports would be kept below 7 million bpd.

The exuberance overshadowed steady and strong gains in US crude oil production, which has since helped drive the price of oil toward the $60 range. The US housing starts spiked by 9.7% to an annual rate of 1.326 million in January. "We are optimistic about 2019 and 2020 too". This this could offset the OPEC cuts to a large extent and therefore Saudi has been hinting about extending the supply cuts.

"This has left stocks in the hub below the five-year average for this time of year", said Warren Patterson at ING.

OPEC and non-OPEC producers reached an agreement in December 2016 to curtail oil output jointly and ease a global glut after more than two years of low prices. The OPEC review meeting in January suggested that output cuts in some form may remain beyond 2018 although the exact modalities need to be worked out. Fuel prices jumped the most on the back of higher oil prices, though federal data show prices for non-fuel imports increased 0.4 percent in January, after posting a decline of 0.1 percent the previous month. Independent refiners in China received quotas that were 55 per cent higher than a year ago.

That was largely due to soaring U.S. crude production, which has jumped by over 20pc since mid-2016 to more than 10m bpd, surpassing that of top exporter Saudi Arabia and coming within reach of Russian Federation, the world's biggest producer. USA refinery demand could however slow over the coming months due to maintenance season kicking in. It remains to be seen whether these declines will signal a buy to push markets higher or whether they will begin a longer-term downtrend.

Another factor helping to boost prices is the technical momentum created by last week's rally. However, failure to breach this resistance zone could cap further gains and once again result in a slide towards immediate support at Rs 3,960-3,930 range.