Oil falls below US$70 as supply risks assessed against OPEC salvo

A Lufkin Industries Inc. Mark II Unitorque electric pumping unit removes crude oil from a Fidelity Exploration & Production Co. well outside South Heart, North Dakota, U.S. (Bloomberg pic)

SINGAPORE: Oil traded below US$70 a barrel as investors assessed the outlook for an oil supply shortage with Iran sanctions set to kick in against whether OPEC can fill in the gap by raising output.

Futures in New York dropped as much as 0.9% after closing at the highest in almost two months. Traders are bracing for a meeting on production between OPEC and its allies in the Algerian capital on September 23. Speculation is swirling over whether a potential supply gap can be filled by the group at a time when American crude inventories are falling to the lowest since 2015, and output losses are witnessed in Iran.

Oil has climbed over the past month, with Brent in London briefly breaking past $80 a barrel, as the impending US sanctions on Iran start removing barrels from markets, and shrinking American inventories and slowing production growth raise fears over a global supply crunch. Still, OPEC warned that escalating trade tensions and a crisis in emerging markets could hurt oil demand, keeping investors guessing on what path the group may take.

“There remains a lot of noise in this week’s markets, but the confluence of bullish near-term signals such as Iran sanctions, sinking US crude inventories and Mideast tensions should keep oil prices supported for the remainder of the week,” according to Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda Corp. “But traders are now pivoting to the OPEC and non-members’ meeting next week in Algeria.”

West Texas Intermediate for October delivery traded at US$69.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 58 cents, at 3.08pm in Singapore. The contract climbed US$1.12 to US$70.37 on Wednesday, the highest close since July 20. Total volume traded was about 21% below the 100-day average.

Brent for November settlement lost 43 cents to US$79.31 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after rising above $80 for the first time since May 22 on Wednesday. The global benchmark traded at a $9.74 premium to WTI for the same month.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies will meet in Algiers this month to assess global oil markets after having agreed to increase output at their last meeting in June. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the nation has the capacity to set a new oil-production record, but it will discuss supplies with OPEC as it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the market balanced.

Still, fears over a supply crunch remained, with Iran’s output slumping by 150,000 barrels last month, according to OPEC’s monthly market report. The Persian Gulf state is the third-biggest producer among OPEC members.

In the US, crude inventories dropped by 5.3 million barrels to 396.2 million barrels last week, the lowest since February 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration data. Stockpiles in Cushing, Oklahoma, declined for the first time in five weeks.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence is set to park above the Carolinas coastline, threatening fuel markets in the East Coast. Duke Energy Corp warned of power loss in North and South Carolina, with the hurricane posing a threat to some pipelines running through the region.