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Oil slumps to lowest since May after fed signals taper this year

The sun sets beyond crude oil storage tanks at the Juaymah tank farm at Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. Photographer: Simon Dawson
The sun sets beyond crude oil storage tanks at the Juaymah tank farm at Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. Photographer: Simon Dawson

Oil slumped below $65 a barrel to the lowest level since May as the US Federal Reserve signalled it was set to start tapering asset purchases within months, hurting commodities and supporting the dollar.

West Texas Intermediate fell 1.4%, declining for a sixth straight day, as global benchmark Brent also retreated. Most Fed officials agreed last month that they could start slowing the pace of bond purchases later this year, according the minutes of their July gathering, released on Wednesday.

Additional downward pressure on crude came from a mixed report on US oil and product holdings from the Energy Information Administration. Although crude stockpiles fell, there was a surprise rise in gasoline inventories, signalling fuel demand is at risk with the delta variant menacing the nation.

Crude’s rally has petered out amid gains in the US currency

Oil’s impressive first-half rally has lost momentum in July and August amid the threat to demand posed by spread of delta, including in key importer China. Gains in the dollar in recent weeks have also acted as a brake on prices, making commodities priced in the US currency more expensive. At the same time, OPEC+ has pushed ahead with gradually restoring supplies.

“The overall environment was fragile to begin with, so I think the Fed minutes yesterday just added another layer of fragility to that,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “It’s just broad risk aversion across markets.”

Prices:

  • WTI for September delivery fell 1.4% to $64.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 11:52 a.m. in Singapore.
  • Earlier, prices hit $64.24, the lowest intraday level since May 24.
  • Brent for October settlement declined 1.1% to $67.47 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange.
  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.3%, climbing for a fourth day.

Brent’s prompt timespread was 44 cents a barrel in backwardation. While that’s a bullish pattern, with near-dated prices more expensive than later-dated ones, it’s down from 57 cents a month ago.

To cushion the US economy from the blow inflicted by the pandemic the Fed has been buying $120 billion of assets every month, buoying commodities and stocks. The minutes showed that most participants now judged it could be appropriate to start reducing them.

The rapid spread of the delta variant and the curbs imposed to contain it have clouded the outlook for energy consumption. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden beefed up his administration’s response to a nationwide surge in infections, laying out a series of actions including vaccination boosters.

“By and large, it’s the delta variant that is still wreaking havoc on the demand-supply estimations,” OCBC’s Lee said. He added: “The New Zealand lockdown shows that anything is still possible.”

A mostly isolated New Zealand was forced into a nationwide lockdown for first time since the initial response over a year ago, and cases have surged since. Meanwhile, Australia suffered its worst day since the start of the pandemic.

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