Oil prices stable amid OPEC supply cuts, but US-China trade war drags

Markets remained tense amid concerns the Sino-US trade war could trigger a broad economic slowdown. Above, a China National Offshore Oil Corporation oil refinery in China’s southern Guangdong province. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2019
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Oil prices stable amid OPEC supply cuts, but US-China trade war drags

  • Producers, known as OPEC+, have been withholding supply since the start of the year to tighten the market and prop up prices
  • But Monday’s gain could not make up for falls last week

SINGAPORE: Oil prices were stable on Monday amid ongoing supply cuts by producer club OPEC, although markets remained tense amid concerns the Sino-US trade war could trigger a broad economic slowdown.
Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $68.79 per barrel at 0247 GMT, up 10 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.54 per barrel, 9 cents below their last settlement.
“The relative strength of the very short-end of the (price) curve likely reflects the market pricing in a known variable of lower supplies from OPEC+,” said Edward Bell, commodity analyst at Emirates NBD bank.
A group of producers led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), known as OPEC+, has been withholding supply since the start of the year to tighten the market and prop up prices.
But Monday’s gain could not make up for falls last week, when both crude futures contracts registered their biggest price declines this year amid concerns that the US-China trade dispute could accelerate a global economic slowdown.
“Sentiment remains fragile and vulnerable to any deterioration in US-China trade frictions,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.
Money managers cut their net long US crude futures and options positions in the week to May 21, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.
“Some signs of low confidence are creeping into positioning data,” Bell said.
In oil futures markets, the trade war effect is better seen beyond the spot market.
“The impact from a trade war is a more medium- to long-term issue and December spreads weakened sharply over the last week,” he said.
Beyond financial markets, there are also signs on the ground of a slowdown in growth in oil demand.
Amid the trade disputes between the United States and China, profits for China’s industrial firms dropped in April on slowing demand and manufacturing activity, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday.
China’s automobile sales, a key driver of global oil demand growth, will reach around 28.1 million units this year, unchanged from levels seen in 2018, when the country’s auto market contracted for the first time in more than two decades, state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday.
The outlook for flat car sales may be too optimistic still, as monthly sales have so far declined for 10 consecutive months.
A bright spot for carmakers, although not for the oil industry, is that sales of new energy vehicles are likely to grow by about 27 percent to hit 1.6 million units, from 1.26 units in 2018, the report said.


Oil prices jump as US crude stocks fall, Middle East worries add support

Updated 26 June 2019
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Oil prices jump as US crude stocks fall, Middle East worries add support

  • Analysts said the gains were mainly driven by American Petroleum Institute data showing a fall in US crude inventories
  • Data come as traders watched for any signs that tensions between the US and Iran could escalate into military conflict
SYDNEY: Oil prices rose more than 1 percent on Wednesday to their highest in nearly a month as industry data showed US crude stockpiles fell more than expected, underpinning a market already buoyed by worries over a potential US-Iran conflict.
Front-month Brent crude futures, international benchmark for oil, were up 1.3 percent at $65.91 by 0341 GMT. They earlier touched their highest since May 31 at $66 a barrel.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.98 per barrel, up 1.8 percent from their last settlement. WTI earlier hit its strongest level since May 30 at $59.03 a barrel.
Analysts said the gains were mainly driven by American Petroleum Institute (API) data showing a fall in US crude inventories.
US crude stockpiles fell by 7.5 million barrels in the week ended June 21 to 474.5 million, compared with analyst expectations for a decline of 2.5 million barrels, the data showed. Crude stocks at US delivery hub Cushing, Oklahoma, fell by 1.3 million barrels.
“Oil prices went ballistic after the API report,” said Stephen Innes, a managing partner at Vanguard Markets.
“Oil prices have been squeezing higher on escalating tensions in the Middle East. But with late-day draws showing up in the API report, this is a strong signal for the energy market,” Innes said.
The data came as traders watched for any signs that tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate into military conflict.
US President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if it attacked “anything American,” in a new war of words with Iran. Tehran has condemned a fresh round of US sanctions as “mentally retarded.”
Bilateral tensions between the two have spiked anew after Iran shot down a US drone last week in the Gulf. Relations have been tense since Washington blamed attacks on oil tankers just outside the Gulf in May and June on Iran, while Tehran has repeatedly said it had no role in the incidents.
Conflict between Washington and Tehran has stoked fears that shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz — the world’s busiest oil supply route — could be disrupted.
Seeking to calm a nervous market, the head of national oil company Saudi Aramco said on Tuesday the company can meet the oil needs of customers using its spare capacity.