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LONDON: Global oil benchmark Brent crude was little changed on Monday, hovering around $83 a barrel as festering demand concerns were offset by continuing conflict in the Middle East.

Brent crude futures eased by 14 cents to $83.33 a barrel by 1243 GMT.

The March contract for U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, which expires on Tuesday, was up 7 cents at $79.26 in tepid trade while the WTI April contract slipped 13 cents to $78.33.

Front-month Brent and WTI futures last week gained about 1.5% and 3% respectively, reflecting increasing risk of Middle East conflict widening.

UAE’s non-oil trade hit record 3.5 trillion dirhams in 2023

Capping those gains was slowing demand forecasts from the International Energy Agency and a bigger than expected increase to U.S. producer prices in January, amplifying inflation concerns.

“WTI and Brent eased on Monday morning as investors re-adjust to demand-side fears after a significant jump in U.S. producer price index numbers,” Phillip Nova analyst Priyanka Sachdeva said in a note.

Demand jitters were magnified on Friday when U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers signalled the need for “patience” over expectations of cuts to interest rates.

Markets are also awaiting indications of the direction of demand from China after it returns from a week-long Lunar New Year holiday while Presidents’ Day in the United States is set to keep trade relatively muted.

The conflict in the Middle East continued over the weekend as Israeli raids put the Gaza Strip’s second-largest hospital out of service.

On Saturday Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi fighters claimed responsibility for an attack on an India-bound oil tanker.

A British-registered cargo ship was deemed to be at risk of sinking in the Gulf of Aden on Monday after a Houthi attack. Another cargo ship, this time U.S.-owned, reported two missile attacks in the Gulf of Aden on Monday and called for military assistance.

Houthi forces have carried out attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November in what they say is support of Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would be able to cover “most levels of disruption”, ANZ Research analysts said in a note, citing spare capacity at an eight-year high of 6.4 million barrels of oil per day.

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