Oil demand is growing and the market has turned “calm,” according to Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister.

“We want to see calm markets,” Ali al-Naimi told reporters after a speech at a conference in the Red Sea city of Jazan in the nation’s southwest on Feb. 25. Saudi Arabia will remain the largest oil exporter, he said, without specifying dates.

Brent crude futures, a benchmark for more than half of the world’s oil, have gained 7.2% this year after plunging 48% in 2014. The contract rose as much as $3.54 to $62.20 a barrel Wednesday and was at $61.43 at 1:59 p.m. in Singapore on the ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Kuwait’s oil minister said this month the surplus in global crude supply is less than the 1.8 million b/d the country estimated last month and that prices will continue to recoup losses. Global oil demand rose 2.2 million b/d in December from a year earlier, the strongest growth in 18 months, London-based Energy Aspects said Tuesday.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, decided on Nov. 27 to keep its production target unchanged, leaving more expensive operators to reduce output. The number of oil rigs in the U.S. dropped 35% since Dec. 5 to the fewest since 2011, according to Baker Hughes Inc. Outlays for exploration and production will drop by more than $116 billion in 2015, Cowen & Co., a New York-based investment bank, estimates.

Saudi Arabia intends to be the biggest exporter of refined oil products, after the U.S., al-Naimi said, without giving any dates. The U.S. exported 2.66 million b/d of refined products in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., the kingdom’s oil-producing and refining company, shipped 331,500 b/d out of a capacity of 2.6 million b/d, according to the company’s annual review.

The largest Arab economy is spending billions of dollars to diversify its economy, including expanding refineries and chemical plants. Saudi Arabian Oil, known as Saudi Aramco, and Dow Chemical Co. expect to start production at a $20 billion chemicals venture this year. The nation is seeking to reduce oil’s share of gross domestic product, al-Naimi said, without providing details.

Saudi Arabia is investing 70 billion riyals ($18.7 billion) in Jazan for a refinery, port and 4,000-megawatt power plant, Aramco Chief Executive Officer Khalid A Al-Falih said at the same conference on Wednesday. The refinery is expected to be completed by about 2017, Suleman al-Bargan, manager of Jazan refinery, said at the conference.

Aramco and partner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. started a refinery last year at a plant at Yanbu on the Red Sea. It will have crude-processing capacity of 400,000 b/d. Aramco holds 62.5% of the facility.

Source: Bloomberg