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.
Concerns Over Interest Rates Hike and Stronger US Dollar Weighed on Oil Prices
Oil prices dropped on the back of growing concerns over the possibility of the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the surge in dollar value against global counterparts.
Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian crude oil is measured, fell by $3.69 from $88.86 a barrel it peaked earlier today to $85.17 per barrel when the New York market opened. The US West Texas Intermediate crude oil shed $3.91 to $81.9 per barrel, down from $85.81 it opened during the Asian trading session.
The decline in oil prices was after the US dollar jumped to a two-week high on Monday against its global counterparts, largely due to the tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the likelihood of the Fed raising interest rates this week.
Francesco Pesole, a strategist at ING Bank, said the increase in dollar value could stall if the Fed signalled a preference for balance sheet reduction against the widely expected interest rate as means to tighten policy.
“If markets see the Fed willing to let balance sheet reduction do the heavy lifting, that may force a scaleback in forecasts for the number of rate hikes,” he said.
“The dollar will find more support from actual rate hike expectations than expectations of draining liquidity out of the market.”
Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank, explained that the crisis in both Ukraine and the Middle East “justify a risk premium on the oil price because the countries involved – Russia and the UAE – are important members of OPEC+”.
Tension in the United Arab Emirates rose on Monday following an interception of two Houthi ballistic missiles targeting the Gulf country after a deadly attack a week earlier.
Oil Extends Gain Above $86 Per Barrel Amid Tight Supply
Brent crude oil extended gains above $86.16 per barrel on Monday as global oil investors are projecting that supply will remain tight despite the surge in Libya crude oil production. The increase, they bet would be offset by restraint from top crude oil producers.
Frantic oil buying, driven by supply outages and signs the Omicron coronavirus variant will not be as disruptive to fuel demand as previously feared, has pushed some crude grades to multi-year highs, suggesting the rally in Brent futures could be sustained for a while longer, traders said.
“The bullish sentiment is continuing as (producer group) OPEC+ is not providing enough supply to meet strong global demand,” said Fujitomi Securities analyst Toshitaka Tazawa.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, together known as OPEC+, are gradually relaxing output cuts implemented when demand collapsed in 2020.
But many smaller producers cannot raise supply and others have been wary of pumping too much oil in case of renewed COVID-19 setbacks.
Meanwhile, Libya’s total oil output is back to 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), according to National Oil Corp. Libyan output was about 900,000 bpd last week owing to a blockade of western oilfields.
“Libya’s oil production had dropped to a good 700,000 bpd at the start of the year, which had played its part in the price rise,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.
Concerns over supply constraints outweighed the news of China’s possible oil release from reserves, said Fujitomi’s Tazawa.
Sources told Reuters that China plans to release oil reserves around the Lunar New Year holidays between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6 as part of a plan coordinated by the United States to reduce global prices.
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday that it is the prerogative of the U.S. government whether to release supply from strategic petroleum reserves.
Festering geopolitical threats to supply are also supporting bullish sentiment, analysts said.
U.S. officials voiced fears on Friday that Russia was preparing to attack Ukraine if diplomacy failed. Russia, which has amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, released pictures of its forces on the move.
Brent Crude Oil Trading at $84.53 a Barrel
The increase in Omicron variant cases has cast doubt on demand for crude oil in the near-term and trimmed gains recorded earlier in the week on Thursday during the Asian trading session.
The brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, pulled back from $85.16 per barrel on Wednesday to $84.53 per barrel at 9:50 am Nigerian time on Thursday.
The uncertainty surrounding the highly contagious Omicron variant and its impact on fuel demand has shown by the U.S Energy Information Administration on Wednesday dragged on the global crude oil outlook.
The data released on Wednesday revealed that gasoline stockpiles rose by 8 million barrels last week, way higher than the 2.4 million barrel increase projected by experts. Suggesting that demand for the commodity is gradually waning in response to omicron.
“Gasoline demand was weaker-than-expected and still below pre-pandemic levels, and if this becomes a trend, oil won’t be able to continue to push higher,” OANDA analyst Edward Moya stated.
However, in a note to Investors King, Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA, expected the impact of omicron to be short-lived. Libya’s inability to ramp up production after outage and OPEC plus continuous failure to meet production target are expected to support crude oil in the main term even with Kazakhstan expected to get back to pre-disruption levels in a few days.
“With omicron seen being less of a drag on growth and demand than feared. Combine this with short supply and there may be some room to run in the rally as restrictions are removed. Of course, Covid brings unpredictability and zero-covid policies of China and some others bring plenty of downside risk for prices,” he said.
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