NEW YORK: Oil prices were little changed on Thursday, with Brent crude trading near $85 a barrel, buoyed by expectations that a strong economic recovery will boost demand, but prices were pressured by rising US inventories and fears of aggressive US interest rate hikes.
Brent crude futures fell 18 cents, or 0.2%, to $84.52 a barrel, by 1133 a.m. ET (1634 GMT). It had gained 4.7% over Tuesday and Wednesday. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 16 cents, or 0.2, to $82.48 a barrel, after rising 5.6% over the last 2 days.
“The U.S producer price inflation data came in easily as hot as the last month and could put pressure on the Fed to rein in the economy, potentially being a drag on crude prices and supporting the dollar,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York, calling them “modestly worrisome factors.”
Oil prices typically move inversely to the US dollar, with a stronger greenback making commodities more expensive for those holding other currencies. Kilduff said some selling was related to investors taking profits after strong gains recently. He said an uptick in initial jobless claims could also further undercut gasoline demand.
Some investors were also taking a deeper look at data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday. While crude oil inventories fell more than expected, the report also showed fuel demand has taken a hit from Omicron. Gasoline stockpiles increased by 8 million barrels in the week to Jan. 7, compared with analyst expectations for a 2.4 million-barrel rise.
“In reality, the weekly EIA report was less bullish than the headline number, as total crude oil inventories fell 4.8 million barrels but were more than offset by a stock build across refined products,” Citi said in a note.
The drop in crude inventories “might have been related to end-of-year tax issues on oil stocks onshore in Texas and Louisiana”, the bank added. However, losses were limited by expectations that Omicron was not severe enough to derail a global demand recovery.
Oil prices soared more than 50% in 2021 and some analysts expect the rally to continue, forecasting that scant production capacity and limited investment could lift crude to $90 or even above $100 a barrel. JP Morgan forecast oil prices to rise as high as $125 a barrel this year. Cold weather in North America also supported prices.
“It will be interesting to see if the optimism is maintained when temperatures start rising come spring,” PVM Oil analyst Tamas Varga said. US crude futures for delivery in February next year traded at a discount of more than $9 to crude futures for delivery in February this year, moving into overbought territory for the first time since November.