Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on 4 March, he hoped and expected the oil market to balance and prices, which hit a near six-year low in January, to stabilise.

In a speech, he said his country was committed to helping balance the oil market, but added it was not up to Saudi Arabia, Opec's top exporter, to subsidise higher-cost producers and that circumstances required non-Opec nations to cooperate.

"With the recent price drop, Opec and Saudi Arabia have yet again been maliciously and unfairly criticised for what is in reality a market reaction. Some speak of Opec's war on shale. Others claim Opec is dead. Theories abound. They are all wrong," Naimi said.

"Going forward, I hope and expect supply and demand to balance and for prices to stabilise," he added.

The comments are a further sign from Naimi of cautious optimism about the market outlook. Last month, Naimi signalled satisfaction with developments, saying he saw oil demand growing and that markets were "calm".

Oil LCOc1 was trading just above $60 a barrel on Wednesday, up more than 30 percent from a near six-year low close to $45 on 13 January.

Prices collapsed from $115 in June due to oversupply, in a decline that deepened after Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at a November meeting refused to cut output.

At the meeting, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies argued that the group needed to ride out lower prices in order to defend market share against shale oil and other competing supply sources, rather than cut output.