LONDON: Oil prices rose 1 percent on Tuesday as OPEC+ producers agreed to stick with their planned increase for February based on indications that the omicron coronavirus variant would have only a mild impact on demand.
Brent crude was up 79 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $79.80 a barrel by 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT) and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 67 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $76.75.
Global benchmark Brent had earlier in the day surpassed $80, its highest since November.
“The oil market is bullish today as a result of optimism sourced from today’s monthly OPEC+ meeting, which is helping oil prices trade higher,” said Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen.
OPEC+, comprising of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, has agreed to stick to its planned increase of 400,000 barrels per day in oil output in February because it expects the omicron variant to have short-lived impact on demand.
“Though omicron cases continue to climb in key geographies, the absence of widespread lockdown restrictions will likely keep near-term demand concerns in check,” RBC analysts said in a note.
Britain’s vaccine minister said people being hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom were generally showing less severe symptoms than previously.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that while some sectors were being disrupted by the surge of the fast-spreading omicron variant, there was no risk of it “paralysing” the economy and stuck to a forecast of 4 percent growth for France’s GDP in 2022.
Global manufacturing activity remained strong in December, suggesting that omicron’s impact on output had been subdued.
However, analysts warned that OPEC+ may have to change tack if tension between the West and Russia over Ukraine flares up and hits fuel supplies, or if Iran’s nuclear talks with major powers make progress, which would lead to an end to oil sanctions on Tehran.
“We think these two events represent major wildcards that could quickly alter the price trajectory and test OPEC’s rapid response mechanism,” RBC analysts said.
Libyan output is likely to be about 500-600,000 bpd lower in the coming weeks, more than offseting the planned monthly increase in OPEC+ production, chief commodities economist at Capital Economics Caroline Bain said.
Libya’s state oil firm said on Saturday oil output would be reduced by 200,000 bpd for a week due to maintenance on a main pipeline, adding to disruptions two weeks ago after militia blocked operations at the Sharara and Wafa oilfields.
However, Bain said Capital Economics remained of the view that as OPEC+ continues to raise production in the coming months and demand growth normalizes, oil prices will come under downward pressure. Capital Economics’ year end-2022 forecast for Brent crude is just $60 per barrel.
European gas prices soared more than 30 percent on Tuesday after low supplies from Russia reignited concerns about an energy crunch as colder weather approaches.
Higher prices for the fuel boosts oil demand as utilities switch to burning crude, rather than natural gas.