Growing US supply puts pressure on oil

Singapore — Oil prices fell by about 1% on Thursday on swelling US supply and amid a cautious reaction to trade talks between the US and China, the world’s two largest oil consumers, that finished without concrete details to ending their dispute.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $51.80 a barrel at 4.32am GMT, down 56c, or 1.1%, from their last settlement.

International Brent crude futures were down 0.9%, or 57c, at $60.87 a barrel.

Both oil benchmarks rose by about 5% the previous day as financial markets around the world surged on the hope that Washington and Beijing may soon be able to end their trade dispute, soothing the fear of an all-out trade war between the two biggest economies and its possible impact on global growth.

By Thursday, however, the positive feelings ebbed because of a lack of details on the talks despite a warm statement from China on the outcome, and financial markets took a breather from the rally.

Vandana Hari of consultancy Vanda Insights in Singapore said in a note that oil prices dropped “as optimism fuelled by the US-China trade talks earlier in the week appeared to have run its course and official statements after the conclusion of three days of negotiations, while indicating modest progress, lacked details”.

Meanwhile, US bank Morgan Stanley cut its 2019 oil price forecasts by more than 10% on Wednesday, pointing to “weakening economic growth expectations” and rising oil supply from especially from the US as reasons for their lower price forecast.

Morgan Stanley now expects Brent to average $61 a barrel in 2019, down from a previous estimate of $69 a barrel, and US crude to average $54 a barrel, against an earlier forecast of $60.

The main source of new supply is the US, where crude oil production remained at a record 11.7-million barrels a day in the week ending January 4, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

That has resulted in swelling fuel inventories.

Petrol stocks rose 8.1-million barrels, to 248.1-million barrels, marking the largest weekly rise since December 2016, the EIA said. Distillate stocks swelled by 10.6-million barrels, to 140.04-million barrels.

Although crude stocks dipped by 1.7-million barrels, to 439.74-million barrels, they remained above their five-year seasonal average of 435-million barrels.

The surge in US crude production runs counter to efforts led by produce cartel Opec to cut supply aimed at reining an emerging glut.

“Balancing the market would require Opec discipline to continue well into 2020,” Morgan Stanley said.