The Perfect Enemy | Oil prices little changed amid China COVID concerns, supply woes
December 2, 2022
Read Time:2 Minute

By Isabel Kua

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Oil prices held steady on Tuesday as rising COVID-19 cases in China sparked fears of lower fuel consumption from the world’s top crude importer and a cut in OPEC’s 2022 global demand forecast offset worries about tight supply.

Brent crude futures edged up 11 cents, or 0.1%, to $93.25 a barrel by 0715 GMT after settling 3% lower on Monday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $85.68 a barrel, down 19 cents, or 0.2%, after tumbling 3.5% in the previous session.

While investors cheered China’s announcements last week that it would lessen the impact of a strict zero-COVID policy to spur economic activity and energy demand, analysts said lockdowns and surging case numbers continue to be a key downside risk.

The country’s COVID cases rose further on Tuesday, including in the capital Beijing, even as many cities scaled back routine testing.

“Rolling lockdowns across heavily populated areas in China penalize mobility and oil demand even more than economic activity,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, in a note.

The country’s factory output growth slowed, retail sales fell and property slumped further in October, the latest sign that the world’s second-largest economy is losing momentum as it struggles with protracted COVID curbs and a property downturn.

Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut its 2022 global oil demand growth forecast for a fifth time since April, citing mounting economic challenges including high inflation and rising interest rates.

This comes after the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday the global economic outlook has become gloomier than projected last month, citing a steady worsening in purchasing manager surveys in recent months.

However, concerns about tight supplies this winter continued to support oil prices. A European Union embargo on Russian oil is set to start on Dec. 5. The ban will be followed by the halting of oil product imports in February.

U.S. crude oil stocks were expected to have dropped by about 300,000 barrels in the week to Nov. 11, a Reuters poll showed on Monday.

The poll was conducted ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute due at 4:30 p.m. ET (2130 GMT) on Tuesday and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) due on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, oil output in the Permian Basin is set to hit another record of 5.499 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, the EIA said in its monthly productivity report on Monday.

However, aging shale regions are showing weaker per-well output, causing overall U.S. crude oil production in shale regions to rise by a mere 91,000 bpd to 9.191 million bpd in December, despite a surge in prices, it said.

(Reporting by Florence Tan and Isabel Kua; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Kirsten Donovan)