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Oil eases as investors eye U.S. oil release, China demand concerns



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Towers and smokestacks are silhouetted at an oil refinery in Melbourne June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/File Photo

By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices eased for a second session on Friday on growing concerns that Washington may soon act to cool prices, while movement controls in China to rein in a COVID-19 outbreak weighed on fuel demand.

futures fell 30 cents, or 0.4%, to $84.17 a barrel at 0150 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 45 cents, or 0.6%, at $81.67 a barrel.

China, the No. 2 oil consumer globally, has suspended some international flights and stepped up efforts to rein in a virus outbreak at Tianjin while the highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread to the northeastern city of Dalian.

Many cities, including Beijing, have also urged people to stay put during the Lunar New Year holiday, which could cool demand for transport fuel during a peak travel season.

“Market is a bit toppish,” said Avtar Sandu, a commodities manager at Phillip Futures in Singapore, adding that reports on the COVID-19 situation in China and the sale of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) in the United States were a concern.

The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it had sold 18 million barrels of strategic crude oil reserves to six companies, including Exxon Mobil (NYSE:) and a unit of refiner Valero Energy Corp (NYSE:).

Nevertheless, Brent and WTI prices are set to climb for a fourth week in a row, supported by supply concerns in Libya and Kazakhstan and a drop in inventories to 2018 lows. Some investors are also optimistic that Omicron’s impact on the global economy and oil demand will be short-lived.

Several banks have forecast oil prices to hit $100 a barrel later this year as demand is expected to outstrip supply.

“The short-term outlook still has many risks, but optimism is high that it will be short-lived,” OANDA’s analyst Edward Moya said in a note.

However, with oil prices above $80 a barrel, there is growing political pressure for the White House to lobby OPEC+ to hit their production quotas, he said.

“Biden may resort to another SPR release and while that won’t solve any problems, it could send WTI crude down to the $80 level,” Moya said.

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