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Oil Prices Slip as China’s Economic Slowdown Undermines Recovery Hopes

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Oil prices faced a downward slide on Tuesday as lackluster Chinese economic data coupled with skepticism over the impact of Beijing’s surprise reduction in key policy rates weighed on the prospects of a robust post-pandemic revival.

Brent crude oil, the international benchmark for Nigerian oil, declined by 54 cent to $85.67 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped by 74 cents to reach $81.77.

The concerted supply cuts implemented by Saudi Arabia and Russia, orchestrated through the OPEC+ coalition comprising the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, have driven a price rally over the past seven weeks.

However, the latest figures concerning China’s industrial output and retail sales, unveiled on Tuesday, painted a grim picture of the nation’s economic health, further intensifying pressure on a post-pandemic recovery that was already stumbling. This led authorities to initiate a reduction in key policy rates in an attempt to invigorate economic activity.

“China often plays the role of fire douser when the oil market gets too comfortable,” remarked John Evans of oil brokerage firm PVM, emphasizing the country’s considerable influence on global oil dynamics.

China’s central bank executed a marginal cut to interest rates, prompted by alarming data reflecting mounting economic stress, particularly within the property sector.

However, analysts are skeptical about the magnitude of this move, suggesting that it might not be substantial enough to make a meaningful difference.

Worries are surfacing that China could fall short of its targeted 5% growth for the year unless there’s a boost in fiscal stimulus. Barclays recently revised its 2023 growth forecast for China’s gross domestic product to 4.5%, citing a swift deterioration in the housing market.

Despite these concerns, China’s refinery throughput in July displayed a 17.4% increase compared to the previous year, driven by elevated output to meet domestic summer travel demand and capitalize on favorable regional profit margins for fuel exports.

Yet, the sentiment toward China appears to be souring, with PVM’s Evans noting growing disillusionment with what markets perceive as “tepid stimulus” from officials who consistently promise more than they deliver.

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Slide on China Demand Concerns, Brent Falls to $83.73

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Oil prices declined on Tuesday for the third consecutive day on growing concerns over a slowing Chinese economy and its impact on global oil demand.

Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, dipped by $1.12, or 1.3% at $83.73 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude dropped $1.15, or 1.4%, to close at $80.76.

The dip in oil prices is largely attributed to disappointing economic data from China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Official figures revealed a 4.7% growth in China’s GDP for the April-June period, the slowest since the first quarter of 2023, and below the forecasted 5.1% growth expected in a Reuters poll.

This slowdown was compounded by a protracted property downturn and widespread job insecurity, which have dampened fuel demand and led many Chinese refineries to cut back on production.

“Weaker economic data continues to flow from China as continued government support programs have been disappointing,” said Dennis Kissler, Senior Vice President of Trading at BOK Financial. “Many of China’s refineries are cutting back on weaker fuel demand.”

Despite the bearish sentiment from China, there is a growing consensus among market participants that the U.S. Federal Reserve could begin cutting its key interest rates as soon as September.

This speculation has helped stem the decline in oil prices, as lower interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing, potentially boosting economic activity and oil demand.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell noted on Monday that the three U.S. inflation readings over the second quarter “add somewhat to confidence” that the pace of price increases is returning to the central bank’s target in a sustainable fashion.

This has led market participants to believe that a turn to interest rate cuts may be imminent.

Also, U.S. crude oil inventories provided a silver lining for the oil market. According to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures, U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 4.4 million barrels last week.

This was a much steeper drop than the 33,000 barrels decline that was anticipated, indicating strong domestic demand.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also weighed in, suggesting that while the global economy is set for modest growth over the next two years, risks remain.

The IMF noted cooling activity in the U.S., a bottoming-out in Europe, and stronger consumption and exports for China as key factors in the global economic landscape.

In summary, while oil prices are currently pressured by concerns over China’s economic slowdown, the potential for U.S. interest rate cuts and stronger domestic demand for crude are providing some support.

Market watchers will continue to monitor economic indicators and inventory levels closely as they gauge the future direction of oil prices.

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OPEC+ Production Cuts Set to Balance Global Oil Market, Says Russian Deputy PM

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In a statement on Monday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak expressed confidence that the global oil market will achieve balance in the second half of 2024, thanks to the production cut strategies implemented by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, collectively known as OPEC+.

OPEC+, which includes major oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, has been actively managing oil output to stabilize the market since late 2022.

In their most recent meeting on June 2, the group agreed to extend their latest production cut of 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) until the end of September. This cut is scheduled to be gradually phased out starting in October.

“The market will always be balanced thanks to our actions,” Novak stated, emphasizing the importance of the coordinated efforts by OPEC+ in maintaining market equilibrium.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently projected that global oil demand will surpass supply by approximately 750,000 bpd in the latter half of 2024 due to the continued reduction in OPEC+ output.

This outlook was echoed in a report by OPEC last week, which highlighted an anticipated oil supply deficit in the coming months and into 2025.

Novak’s remarks come at a crucial time for the global oil market, which has experienced significant volatility over the past year.

The OPEC+ alliance has been pivotal in mitigating some of this instability by adjusting production levels in response to fluctuating demand and other market dynamics.

Analysts suggest that the measures taken by OPEC+ will play a vital role in ensuring that the oil market remains stable as the world continues to navigate economic uncertainties and fluctuating energy demands.

The production cuts are expected to support oil prices by limiting supply, thereby helping to balance the market.

The impact of these production cuts is already being felt, with oil prices showing signs of stabilization.

However, the market remains sensitive to geopolitical developments and economic trends, which could influence future supply and demand dynamics.

As OPEC+ prepares to unwind some of its production cuts in the coming months, industry observers will be closely monitoring the market’s response.

The gradual phasing out of the cuts is designed to prevent any sudden shocks to the market, allowing for a smoother transition and sustained balance.

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Oil Prices Steady Amid U.S. Political Uncertainty and Middle East Tensions

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Oil prices held firm on Monday as the political uncertainty in the United States and ongoing tensions in the Middle East persist.

Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced,  fell slightly by 13 cents, or 0.2%, to $84.90 a barrel after a 37-cent drop on Friday.

Similarly, U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude stood at $82.15 a barrel, down 6 cents, or 0.1%.

The dollar’s strength, which followed a failed assassination attempt on U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, exerted some pressure on oil prices.

A stronger dollar typically makes oil more expensive for buyers using other currencies, leading to reduced demand.

“I don’t think you can ignore the uncertainty that the weekend’s assassination attempt will cast across a deeply divided country in the lead-up to the election,” said Tony Sycamore, market analyst at IG.

In the Middle East, efforts to end the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas stalled over the weekend.

Talks were halted after three days, although a Hamas official indicated that the group had not withdrawn from discussions.

The situation escalated further when an Israeli attack targeting a Hamas military leader killed 90 people on Saturday, maintaining the geopolitical premium on oil.

Despite these geopolitical tensions, oil markets remain supported by supply cuts from OPEC+. Iraq’s oil ministry has pledged to compensate for any overproduction since the beginning of the year, reinforcing the market’s stability.

Last week, Brent fell more than 1.7% after four weeks of gains, while WTI futures slid 1.1%. The decline was largely attributed to a fall in China’s crude imports, which countered robust summer consumption in the United States.

“While fundamentals are still supportive, there are growing demand concerns, largely emanating from China,” noted ING analysts led by Warren Patterson.

China’s crude oil imports fell 2.3% in the first half of this year to 11.05 million barrels a day, with disappointing fuel demand and reduced output by independent refiners due to weak profit margins.

Also, crude throughput at Chinese refineries dropped 3.7% in June from a year earlier to 14.19 million barrels per day, marking the lowest level this year, according to customs data.

China’s economy has slowed in the second quarter, weighed down by a protracted property downturn and job insecurity, keeping alive expectations that Beijing will need to implement more stimulus measures.

In the United States, the active oil rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by one to 478 last week, marking the lowest level since December 2021, according to energy services firm Baker Hughes.

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