By Rania El Gamal, Alex Lawler and Ahmad Ghaddar
LONDON (Reuters) - OPEC+ maintained its oil output policy at a meeting on Wednesday, a sign producers are happy that their deep supply cuts are draining inventories despite an uncertain outlook for a recovery in demand as the pandemic lingers.
A Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, is "optimistic for (a) year of recovery in 2021," OPEC said in a statement after the panel met virtually.
Graphic: World Oil Demand and Supply https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-OIL/oakveywyzvr/chart.png
Oil has rallied from historic lows hit last year, thanks to record OPEC+ output cuts that the group is starting to unwind.
Global benchmark Brent extended gains after the meeting and rose towards $59 a barrel, its highest since late February 2020.[O/R]
"While inventories are drawing fast, the market is pricing in a smooth rollout of vaccines and that may be premature," said Amrita Sen, co-founder of Energy Aspects.
Graphic: OECD Oil Stocks OECD Oil Stocks https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-OIL/xegvbedwzpq/chart.png
The OPEC+ panel made no mention of changing policy, which calls for most members to hold supply steady in February and top exporter Saudi Arabia to cut output voluntarily by 1 million barrels per day this month and next.
Graphic: Oil Market Balance - OPEC+ base case scenario https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-OIL/xlbpgyemopq/chart.png
Graphic: Oil Market Balance, OPEC+ Alternative Scenario Oil Market Balance, OPEC+ Alternative Scenario https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-OIL/yxmvjydqqpr/chart.png
"While economic prospects and oil demand would remain uncertain in the coming months, the gradual rollout of vaccines around the world is a positive factor for the rest of the year, boosting the global economy and oil demand," OPEC's statement said.
A document seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed OPEC expects the output cuts will keep the market in deficit throughout 2021, even though the group cut its demand forecast.
The OPEC+ panel meets next on March 3, which is expected to be followed by a full OPEC+ gathering to decide policy.
Rystad Energy said it expects crude supply deficits throughout the summer and OPEC+'s next move may be to pump more.
"Today's OPEC+ meeting could be paving the way for a gradual production ramp up from April onwards," said Rystad's head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen.
(Additional reporting by Olesya Astakhova and Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Dimitry Zhdannikov, Elaine Hardcastle,nJane Merriman and Marguerita Choy)