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Oil prices settle lower on stronger supply outlook

FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oil field in Midland

By Laura Sanicola

(Reuters) -Oil prices settled lower on Friday, making their weekly finish flat to lower, as indications of strong Russian oil supply offset better-than-expected U.S. economic growth data, strong middle distillate refining margins and hopes of a rapid recovery in Chinese demand.

Brent futures settled down 81 cents, or 0.9%, at $86.66 per barrel, up just 3 cents from last week's settlement. U.S. crude fell $1.33, or 1.6 %, to settle at $79.68, 2% lower on the week.

Oil loadings from Russia's Baltic ports are set to rise by 50% this month from December as sellers try to meet strong demand in Asia and benefit from rising global energy prices, traders said and Reuters calculations showed.

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Urals and KEBCO crude oil loadings from Ust-Luga over Feb. 1-10 may rise to 1.0 million tonnes from 0.9 million in the plan for the same period of January, traders also.

"If Russian supply remains strong heading into next month, oil is probably going to continue to trend lower," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

He added that profit taking ahead of the weekend may also have driven prices lower.

U.S. energy firms this week kept oil and natural gas rigs steady at 771, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co BKR.O said in its closely followed report on Friday.

Meanwhile, OPEC+ delegates meet next week to review crude production levels, with sources from the oil producer group expecting no change to current output policy.

The U.S. Federal Reserve's next decision on interest rates will be made at meeting over Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 against a backdrop of a dip in inflation and gross domestic product that grew by a faster than expected 2.9% in the fourth quarter.

A 4.2 million barrel build this week in stocks at Cushing, the pricing hub for NYMEX oil futures, also weighed on the market. [EIA/S]

In China, critically ill COVID-19 cases are down 72% from a peak early this month while daily deaths among COVID-19 patients in hospitals have dropped by 79% from their peak, pointing to a normalisation of the Chinese economy and boosting expectations of a recovery in oil demand.

(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Additional reporting by Julia Payne in London and Sudarshan Varadhan in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman, Kirsten Donovan and David Gregorio)