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NEW YORK: Oil prices dropped toward $73 a barrel on Tuesday after the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the Omicron coronavirus variant is set to dent the global demand recovery. US data showing producer prices at 11-year highs confirmed market expectations of faster stimulus tapering to emerge from this week’s Federal Reserve meeting, supporting the dollar and weighing on oil, which typically move inversely.

Brent crude futures fell $1.64, or 2.2%, to $72.75 a barrel by 12:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down $1.59, or 3.3%, at $69.70. On Tuesday the World Health Organization said that the Omicron variant was spreading at an “unprecedented” rate, which edged markets lower.

“The surge in new COVID-19 cases is expected to temporarily slow, but not upend, the recovery in oil demand that is under way,” the Paris-based IEA said in its monthly oil report. Governments around the world, including most recently Britain and Norway, have tightened restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

The IEA lowered its forecast for oil demand this year and the next by 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) each, mostly because of the expected blow to jet fuel use from new travel curbs. “The skies are darkening for the oversupply outlook again,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

The Asian Development Bank on Tuesday trimmed its growth forecasts for developing Asia for this year and next to reflect risks and uncertainty brought on by the variant, which could also hamper oil demand. On Monday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised its world oil demand forecast for the first quarter of 2022 and stuck to its timeline for a return to pre-pandemic levels of oil use, saying the Omicron variant’s impact would be mild and brief.

OPEC+, which includes OPEC and other producers including Russia, plan to boost supply every month by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) after sharply cutting output last year. Output in the largest US shale basin is expected to surge to a record in January, according to a forecast from the US Energy Information Administration.

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