Oil prices climbed for the first time in three days on Wednesday, but rising supply and fears over the outlook for demand amid the U.S.-China trade war kept pressure on the market. Brent crude futures had gained 49 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $76.40 a barrel by 0619 GMT. They fell 1.8 percent on Tuesday, at one point touching their lowest since Aug. 24 at$75.09 a barrel.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures advanced 28 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $66.46 a barrel on Wednesday. They dropped 1.3 percent the day before, after hitting their lowest since Aug. 17 at $65.33 a barrel. Both crude benchmarks have fallen about $10 a barrel from four-year highs reached in the first week of October, and are on track to post their worst monthly performance since July 2016.
“Everyone thought we were going to go into the $90s, but now we are heading for the $60s,” said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo, referring to Brent prices. Oil has been caught in the global financial market slump this month, with equities under pressure from the trade scrap between the world’s two largest economies.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that he thinks there will be “a great deal” with China on trade but warned that he has billions of dollars worth of new tariffs ready to go if a deal is not possible.
Trump said he would like to make a deal now but that China was not ready. He did not elaborate. The United States has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has responded with retaliatory duties on $110 billion worth of U.S. goods.
In a bearish signal, the American Petroleum Institute reported U.S. crude inventories rose 5.7 million barrels last week, more than analyst’s forecasts for a 4.1 million barrel build. Investors will look to official government data on U.S. inventories due on Wednesday.
Oil production from Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia reached 33 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first time in September, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. That is an increase of 10 million bpd since the start of the decade and means the three producers alone now meet a third of global crude demand.
The United States is set to impose new sanctions on Iranian crude from next week, and exports from the Islamic Republic have already begun to fall. Saudi Arabia and Russia have said they will pump enough crude to meet demand once the sanctions kick in.
“(After the recent drop in oil prices), this is not the time to back off, if Trump wants to put the screws on Iran,” Nunan said. Imports of Iranian crude oil by major buyers in Asia hit a 32-month low in September, as China, South Korea and Japan sharply cut their purchases ahead of the sanctions on Tehran, government and ship-tracking data showed.
More News on Crude Oil:
Oil started out the week seeing some volatility and choppy trading, awaiting more signs of a clear direction.
• YPF plans to spend $4 billion to $5 billion per year through 2022 in an effort to increase oil and gas production, with a target of 5 to 7 percent production growth per year.
• Petrobras and a consortium including BP (NYSE: BP) and CNPC began drilling on its first well in the Peroba subsalt area in offshore Brazil. The block could hold as much as 5.3 billion barrels of oil.
• Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE: COG) saw its share price jump when it reported higher realized natural gas prices and gains from asset sales. Cabot’s stock rose nearly 6 percent despite missing earnings expectations.
India, China and Turkey still buying Iranian oil. With just days to go before U.S. sanctions on Iran go into effect, it appears that India, China and Turkey are still resisting demands from Washington to eliminate purchases.
Reuters reports that there is tension within the Trump administration over how hard to press these countries, with one camp, led by national security adviser John Bolton, pushing for zero tolerance, and others more in favor of offering some waivers. Several top importers are still set to buy some Iranian oil in November. “We have told this to the United States, as well as during Brian Hook’s visit,” a source from the Indian government told Reuters, referring to the U.S.’ special envoy. “We cannot end oil imports from Iran at a time when alternatives are costly.”
Concerns over global economy weigh on crude. Crude oil posted steep losses over the past two weeks, the result of growing concerns about the health of the global economy. Other commodities, including copper, have also seen volatility. “It is often said that when stock markets sneeze, commodities catch a cold. This adage was on full display last week as a global rout on equity gauges dragged the energy complex lower,” PVM Oil Associates strategist Stephen Brennock said to Reuters.
Market in wait-and-see mode. With Iran sanctions set to take effect in a few days, the market is awaiting further clarity. Saudi Arabia and Russia have vowed to cover any supply shortfall, but Iran’s oil exports likely won’t go to zero.
“I expect investors will take a wait-and-see stance this week before the return of sanctions on Iran and U.S. midterm elections,” Makiko Tsugata, a senior analyst at Mizuho Securities Co., told Bloomberg. Even though Iran is set to lose a significant portion of its exports, “if both Saudi Arabia and Russia boost output and U.S. production continues to rise, we could have a supply glut.”
Russia ill-prepared for IMO rules. Rules from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set to take effect in 2020, which will lower the allowed concentration of sulfur in marine fuels, pose an enormous threat to Russia. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of sulfurous residual fuel oil and it is ill-prepared to comply with the regulations. “Russia’s oil segment appears to end up among the biggest losers financially,” IHS Markit Ltd.’s senior research analyst Alexander Scherbakov said, according to Bloomberg. There’s “no chance for them to be 100 percent prepared.”
Hedge funds continue to cut bullish bets. Hedge funds and other money managers continued to liquidate their bullish positions on crude oil futures, a sign that investors are increasingly pessimistic about the trajectory for oil prices. The ratio of long to short positions fell to 6:1, down from 12:1 at the end of September, according to Reuters.