LONDON/RIYADH: Brent crude approached $75 a barrel on Wednesday as a report showed US inventories fell more than expected last week, moving the market’s focus away from concerns that rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections will hurt demand.
Crude in storage fell to the lowest since January 2020, while distillate supplies posted the biggest decline since April, according to a report from the US Energy Information Agency. Fuel inventories fell by more than 2 million barrels.
WTI, the US benchmark, added 0.5 percent to $72.03 a barrel as of 3:48 p.m. in London, while Brent climbed 0.3 percent to $74.72.
Oil is 45 percent higher this year, boosted by a return of demand, as economies have reopened following millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while OPEC+ has kept supply tight.
However, OPEC+ agreed to increase supply by 400,000 barrels a day every month from August, leading to speculation as to whether demand will continue to return.
“Oil supply is likely to remain tight even with the production hikes set by OPEC+,” Naeem Aslam, from online broker Avatrade, told Reuters.
Russia’s flagship Urals crude oil has mostly been used in Europe so far this year due to relatively low output and high prices, while Asian markets have shunned the blend, data showed on Wednesday.
As a result, Russia has lagged behind Saudi Arabia in China’s energy market, one of the world’s largest.
According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the port of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest oil hub, received 9.7 million tons of Urals in the first half of this year, up from 7.3 million tons in the same period last year.
At the same time, supplies of seaborne Urals cargoes to China plunged to 1.8 million tons from 7.86 million in the first half of 2020.
This year, the spread between Brent — to which Urals is linked — and the Middle Eastern Dubai blend has reached an all-time high of more than $4 per barrel, making Russian oil uncompetitive in Asia.
India has also cut purchases of Urals, while South Korea and Thailand have completely stopped intake of the blend.
Some European countries, notably Finland, have also reduced purchases of seaborne Urals amid the move to greener economies.