Oil Little Changed as Investors Weigh Iran Talks, Demand Bump
(Bloomberg) -- Oil inched up with the prospect of a continued recovery in demand offsetting some concerns around higher Iranian supplies if sanctions on the country’s exports are loosened.
West Texas Intermediate closed higher after switching between gains and losses in about a $1-a-barrel trading range on Tuesday. Expectations for a pick-up in demand as the U.S. summer driving season begins this month as well as signs of improving mobility in Europe are keeping prices supported. Meanwhile, talks between Iran and other nations continued in Vienna to resolve outstanding issues on a nuclear accord, which may pave the way for the removal of sanctions on crude flows from the Persian Gulf nation.
“The market will likely remain choppy” with the potential supply increase being weighed against projected demand this summer, said Tom Finlon, of Brownsville GTR LLC, a trading and logistics firm based in Houston. “Diplomats have to speak in optimistic terms, but there are still some significant hurdles to climb.”
Futures in New York moved back toward their settlement price after drifting lower late afternoon. The American Petroleum Institute was said to report a 439,000-barrel decline in U.S. crude inventories, as well as a drop in both gasoline and distillate stockpiles last week.
Crude futures have risen for a third straight session, holding close to $66 a barrel in New York. But the prospect of a further ramp-up of Iranian production has kept rallies limited. A tens-of-millions-of-barrels stash of oil floating on tankers is at stake in the event a deal is reached. Iran may be holding as much as 69 million barrels at sea, according to estimates from E.A. Gibson Shipbrokers Ltd., though it is hard to be sure exactly how big the floating stockpile really is.
In the U.S., virus cases are falling and the upcoming Memorial Day break, a three-day weekend for many, marks the unofficial start of the nation’s summer driving season. Meanwhile, a sample of 15 European cities was the most congested since March 2020 last week, according to data from TomTom Plc.
“We’re going to need some sort of bullish inventory report or further validation of Europe’s recovery to really move to the next level,” said Jay Hatfield, CEO of Infrastructure Capital Management. In the meantime, the market “is in a consolidation phase, waiting for the demand story to unfold” while the prospect of more Iranian barrels is adding to price pressure.
Among the most prominent moves in oil markets over the past few days, U.S. crude’s discount to global benchmark Brent has narrowed sharply. WTI’s discount to Brent shrunk this week to the closest the two grades have been since November, before slightly easing on Tuesday. At the same time, WTI’s backwardation -- when near-term contracts are pricier than those further out -- has firmed in recent days, indicating tight supplies at a time when U.S. fuel demand is expected to rise.
“Generally speaking, when that gets inside $3 a barrel, it starts to affect U.S. export capability,” said Bob Yawger, head of the futures division at Mizuho Securities.
In physical markets, WTI’s prompt cash roll traded at 20 cents a barrel on Tuesday, its strongest level since May 2020, reflecting that inventories are tight just as oil refiners are ramping up output. The spread, which enables market participants to roll long positions into the next month, trades in the three-day period after the expiration of the front-month futures contract.
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