April 20, 2018 / 4:52 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 8-Oil recovers after sliding on Trump tweet criticizing OPEC

* Trump says oil prices artificially high

* Brent, WTI this week hit highest levels since November, 2014

* Coming Up: Baker Hughes U.S. oil rig count at 1 p.m./1700 GMT (Recasts throughout, refreshes prices, adds comment, changes byline, updates dateline (previous LONDON)

By Ayenat Mersie

NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changed on Friday, stabilizing after an earlier slide driven by U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of OPEC’s role in pushing up global oil prices.

Brent crude oil futures were down 6 cents at $73.72 per barrel by 12:25 p.m. EDT (1625 GMT). West Texas Intermediate crude futures for delivery in June, the most active U.S. contract, were down 2 cents at $68.31. The May WTI contract, which expires on Friday, gained 3 cents at $68.29.

“Looks like OPEC is at it again,” Trump tweeted.

“With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea, Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!”

Since early 2017, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies have curbed output in the hopes of eliminating a global oil glut.

“ are doing our role to correct the market and the market, as we said, is not yet balanced,” UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said in response to the tweet, adding that prices were not artificially high.

OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said members were friends of the United States and have a vested interest in its growth and prosperity.

“The only thing he can really do is drain the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve). Now, I have not seen any indication that the administration plans on doing that,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

If President Trump does start discussing the possibility of draining the strategic petroleum reserves, or SPR, that would be bearish for prices, Yawger said.

Earlier this week, both Brent and WTI hit their highest levels since November 2014, at $74.75 and $69.56 per barrel respectively, buoyed by geopolitical risk and a tightening market. For the week, both benchmarks were on track for a gain of over 1 percent.

Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih said OPEC and its allies had not yet reached their target and that drawdowns in oil inventories needed to continue.

“We have a difficult time seeing how OPEC would in any way be swayed here in terms of changing course, in terms of policy,” said Michael Tran, commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

Trump has recently been a bullish factor for oil, Tran said.

“One of the major variables that’s fueling the rally in oil prices is the market’s perception that his administration is taking an increasingly hawkish stance on foreign policy,” he said.

The United States has until May 12 to decide whether it will leave the Iran nuclear deal, which would further tighten global supplies.

Meanwhile, the market was eyeing rising U.S. crude production. The weekly U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, was due at about 1 p.m. (Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jon Boyle)

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