Oil futures settled higher on Friday to score a weekly gain—their first in six—as traders assessed reported signs of Chinese demand for crude against a backdrop of concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy.
“Independent Chinese refiners reportedly went on a buying spree,” said Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM.
Among the independent refiners, Shandong Shouguang Luqing Petrochemical Co. snapped up as many as seven cargoes from Russia, Angola and Gabon for March and April, while Sinochem Hongrun Petrochemical Co. bought a shipment from Gabon, Bloomberg News reported Friday.
Still, the gains for oil prices “may prove fleeting if market participants are given cause to think that the worst of the [COVID-19] outbreak is not over yet, which could exert greater downward pressure on global demand,” Tan told MarketWatch.
West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery CLH20, +1.21% rose 63 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $52.05 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while April Brent crude BRNJ20, -0.07% settled 98 cents, or 1.7%, higher at $57.32 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.
WTI, the U.S. benchmark, notched a 3.4% weekly rise, while Brent, the global benchmark, saw a 5.2% weekly rise, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The gains marked the first weekly gain for both grades since the week ended Jan. 3.
Analysts said oil, which slumped into a bear market last week, has also found its footing on ideas the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, particularly Russia, could agree to a plan to further curb production in response to demand fears sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in China.
“The OPEC+ technical committee’s recommendation to cut supply by a further 600,000 barrels a day would help if Russia signs on, and Nigeria joins Libya in experiencing conflict disruption to production,” said Jason Gammel, analyst at Jefferies, in a note. “Still, Chinese demand expectations remain the dominant factor for crude prices and the severity and duration of the coronavirus effects remain a guessing game.”
China on Friday said 121 more people had died from COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,381. The country’s National Health Commission reported 5,090 new confirmed cases in mainland China, bringing the total to 63,851. The number of new cases jumped sharply on Thursday after a change in the government’s counting method.
Russia remains the wild card when it comes to agreeing to further production curbs by OPEC+, analysts said.
Kremlin officials insist that President Vladimir Putin hasn’t made up his mind on the recommendation by an OPEC+ joint technical committee for OPEC and its allies to reduce output by 600,000 barrels a day, said Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, in a note.
At the same time, Russian energy companies continue to balk at deeper cuts while signaling a willingness to extend the current agreement on output curbs, which are set to end in March, through the second quarter, she noted.
“We see this as largely in keeping with past practice and that Putin will once again overrule his energy executives at the 11th hour and sign on the dotted line when the ministers meet on March 5 — though this public hand-wringing may be effectively deployed in the negotiations to reduce Russia’s overall output obligations,” Croft said.
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In other energy trading, March gasoline RBH20, +0.25% rose 0.2% to $1.5833 a gallon, for a weekly rise of 3.9%, while March heating oil HOH20, +1.03% ended nearly 1.1% higher at $1.6982 a gallon, posting a gain of 3.3% for the week.
March natural gas NGH20, +1.10% tacked on 0.6% to $1.837 per million British thermal units. Prices, however, suffered loss of 1.1% for the week after the front-month contract on Monday settled at $1.766, the lowest since March 2016.
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