Oil prices rose above $83 a barrel in volatile trading on Thursday, recovering from sharp falls triggered by concerns over increasing U.S. inflation as OPEC cut its 2021 oil demand forecast due to high energy prices.
Brent crude futures rose 63 cents, or 0.76%, to $83.27 a barrel by 1443 GMT after falling earlier to $81.66. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were up 63 cents, or 0.77%, at $81.97 after hitting a session low of $80.20.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said in a monthly report it expects oil demand to average 99.49 million barrels per day (bpd) in the fourth quarter of 2021, down 330,000 bpd from last month’s forecast.
“A slowdown in the pace of recovery in the fourth quarter of 2021 is now assumed due to elevated energy prices,” OPEC said in the report, also citing slower-than-expected demand in China and India for the downward revision.
OPEC sees world consumption surpassing the 100 million bpd mark in the third quarter of 2022, three months later than forecast last month.
On Wednesday, data showed U.S. inflation increased by 6.2%, the fastest rate in 30 years, driven largely by steeper energy prices, pushing the dollar higher and sending Brent and WTI crude down by 2.5% and 3.3% respectively.
A rise in U.S. oil stocks after a government release of some strategic reserves put further pressure on prices.
In response to the rising inflation, U.S. President Joe Biden said he asked the National Economic Council to work to reduce energy costs and the Federal Trade Commission to push back on market manipulation in the energy sector to reverse inflation.
“Crude prices are trying to find their footing after yesterday’s slide as runaway inflation in America is adding pressure on the Biden administration to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR),” said Edward Moya, senior analyst at OANDA.
“Energy traders know that an SPR release will only deliver a very short-term drop in prices that won’t provide much relief for the American consumer.”
The Brent crude price has gained more than 60% this year and hit a three-year high of $86.70 on Oct. 25, supported by recovering demand and supply restraint by OPEC and its allies, together known as OPEC+.
But oil prices appear to be consolidating below $85 a barrel, Norbert Rucker, head of economics at Julius Baer, said in a note.
“We could be looking at early signs of a fundamental transition towards an easing market, not least as oil demand should only grow gradually going forward with the pick-up in U.S. shale and petro-nation supply.”
Oil Prices Drop 3 Percent on Tuesday After Moderna’s CEO Comment
Oil prices tumbled more than 3% on Tuesday after Moderna’s CEO cast doubt on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron coronavirus variant, spooking financial markets and adding to worries about oil demand.
The head of drugmaker Moderna told the Financial Times that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as they have been against the Delta variant.
Brent crude futures fell $2.32, or 3.2%, to $71.12 a barrel at 0912 GMT after slipping to an intraday low of $70.52, the lowest since Sept. 1.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $2.15, or 3.1%, to $67.80 a barrel, off a session low of $67.06, the weakest since Aug. 26.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will also tell U.S. lawmakers later in the day the variant could imperil economic recovery, prepared remarks show.
“The economic impact is driven by fear, and by the policy response… Fear is impacting travel. There are outright bans. But also the fear of being stranded which causes travel plans to alter,” Paul Donovan from UBS said in a note.
Oil plunged around 12% on Friday along with other markets on fears the heavily mutated Omicron would spark fresh lockdowns and dent global oil demand. It is still unclear how severe the new variant is.
With a weakening demand outlook , expectations are growing that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting countries, Russia and their allies, together called OPEC+, will put on hold plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to supply in January.
“We think the group will lean towards pausing output hikes in light of the Omicron variant and the oil stockpile release by major oil consumers,” Commonwealth Bank commodities analyst Vivek Dhar said in a note.
Pressure was already growing within OPEC+, due to meet on Dec. 2, to reconsider its supply plan after last week’s release of emergency crude reserves by the United States and other major oil-consuming nations to address soaring prices.
“Following the global strategic reserve releases and the announcement of dozens of countries restricting travel… OPEC and its allies can easily justify an output halt or even a slight cut,” OANDA analyst Edward Moya said in a note.
Still, Citi analysts expect OPEC+ to continue to add more barrels in January.
New COVID Variant: Brent Crude Sheds Over $10 to $72 Per Barrel
Brent crude oil extended decline by over $10 on Friday on concerns that a new COVID variant called B.1.1.529 could force economies to impose restrictions and slow down global demand.
Brent crude, against which Nigerian crude oil is measured, dropped from $82.55 per barrel it attained on Thursday to as low as $72.09 on Friday at 7:20 pm Nigerian time before it rebounded slightly to $72.98 per barrel as shown below.
Global financial markets plunged across the board following reports that two cases of the new heavily mutated COVID variant from South Africa have been reported in Hong Kong and that the United Kingdom, one of the most affected nations during COVID-19 with over 140,000 deaths has halted flights from six South African nations to prevent a potential breakout of the new COVID variant.
Experts are concerned that the new variant outbreak would slow down global growth and increase global risks going into the new year.
According to Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA, “Even without severe restrictions, people will adopt more caution which will weigh on demand, as OPEC+ has repeatedly stated and factored into their models.”
However, heavy crude oil-consuming nations like the United States, China and others that have been calling for more supply will now enjoy substantial price reduction if this continues, therefore, Joe Biden may not need to release millions of barrels into the global market.
“Crude is back at levels last seen at the start of October and if this risk aversion continues in the weeks ahead, there’s plenty of room to fall. While OPEC+ would likely have avoided altering production plans next week or in the months following in response to the SPR releases, it may soon feel its hand is being forced. Next week may come too soon but another major outbreak could see them slam on the brakes,” Craig Erlam added.
Concerns Over New COVID Variant Plunges Brent Crude Oil Below $80 a Barrel
Concerns over rising new COVID variant in South Africa, Asia and other regions weighed on Brent crude oil and other financial assets on Friday.
The heavily mutated COVID variant called B.1.1.529 plunged Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian crude oil is priced, by almost 4 percent on Friday to trade below $80 a barrel for the first in months.
Brent crude dropped $3.16 or 3.8 percent to $79.06 per barrel while the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) sheds $3.45 or 4.4 percent to $74.94 a barrel.
“Oil prices have gapped lower in Asia as the South African variant sparks’ growth fears, sending a wave of selling through Asian energy markets. Although gas and coal prices are holding steady, oil prices have tumbled,” stated Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA.
Commodity prices dropped after the United Kingdom announced it has halted all flights from six South African nations. In Hong Kong, two cases of the new variant were detected on Friday.
“With US markets closed for holidays, investors are voting with their feet this morning. The one bull in the China shop that could truly derail the global recovery has always been a new strain of Covid-19 that swept the world and caused the reimposition of mass social retractions.”
This was coming two days after U.S President Joe Biden announced his administration plans to release millions of barrels of oil from strategic reserves to cool rising crude oil prices and rein in fuel price in the world’s largest economy.
Global financial markets experts are worried that the new variant will slow down global growth and force economies to start shutting down following the U.K announcement on Thursday.
Today, investors across the world will be paying attention to the outcome of meeting between WHO and South African officials, and the evolution of the B.1.1.529 variant. This will dictate market reaction for next week.
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