Oil Up as Supply Risks Supersede China Demand Impacts

Oil & Gas

Oil rose to settle at its highest in three days in a volatile session as a series of challenges to supply eclipsed concern about the lingering threat to energy demand from lockdowns in China.

West Texas Intermediate closed Thursday above $103 a barrel in a week that has seen futures swing in a $10 range. The Biden administration unveiled a fresh arms package for Ukraine as the war there drags on. The White House has also banned the entry of Russian ships to U.S. ports. Meanwhile, European Union members are moving to cut dependence on Russian oil, with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock saying the country plans to stop imports by year-end.

Oil has been hugely volatile since the outbreak of war. After spiking above $130, prices have retreated amid a liquidity crunch, with traders fleeing the market in the face of extreme volatility and onerous margin calls. Open interest in WTI futures continues to fall, indicating that the pullback in activity is ongoing. 

“The oil market continues to be characterized by a tug-of-war between concerns about demand and concerns about supply outages,” said Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG. “This is also evident from the constant fluctuations in oil prices.”

Separately, the U.S. Energy Department said it sold all 30 million barrels of mainly sour oil from its Strategic Reserve that it offered in a tender. Twelve companies were awarded supplies.  

Russian output has fallen, though exports are only now starting to shrink. Protests in Libya are hurting supply and repairs to a key Kazakh export route are dragging on. 

For prices to move higher, Russian exports would have to drop, said said Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst at UBS Group AG. “I still expect it to come but so far Russian exports are still high.”

Prices:

  • West Texas Intermediate for June delivery added $1.60 to settle at $103.79 a barrel in New York.
  • Brent for June settlement rose $1.53 to $108.33.

In China, officials are struggling to eradicate a wave of Covid-19 in key cities. Strict curbs have hurt mobility, including for the nation’s fleet of trucks, and banks are reducing their forecasts from the nation’s expansion this year. President Xi Jinping told a local forum that while economic fundamentals remain strong, “we have yet to walk from the shadow”of the pandemic.

Other corners of the globe are seeing indications of robust fuel demand though. On Wednesday the 3-2-1 futures crack spread in the U.S. — a measure of the profitability of turning crude into gasoline and diesel — shot up to the highest level in records going back to 1986. In Europe, France’s oil-product sales were above pre-Covid levels in March.

(with assistance from Alex Longley)

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