Oil eases as demand concerns offset Middle East tensions

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Written By Pinang Driod

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Storage tanks are seen at the Petroineos Ineos petrol refinery in Lavera, France, March 29, 2022. Picture taken March 29, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

By Scott DiSavino

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil futures eased on Monday as concerns about interest rates and global demand caused the market to take a break after prices jumped about 6% last week on worries Middle East tensions could cause supply problems.

futures fell 42 cents, or 0.5%, to $81.77 a barrel by 2:05 p.m. EST (1905 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 20 cents, or 0.3%, to $76.64.

A U.S. Federal Reserve official said she was not interested in recommending a rate cut, adding to the chorus on further reining in inflation.

The New York Fed said its January Survey of Consumer Expectations showed the outlook for inflation a year and five years from now were unchanged, with both remaining above the Fed’s target rate. If inflation worries delay Fed interest rate cuts, that could reduce oil demand by slowing economic growth.

U.S. inflation data is expected on Tuesday, while British inflation and euro zone Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data should land on Wednesday.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which represents industrialized countries, predicted oil demand will peak by 2030, undercutting the rationale for investment. Others in the market disagreed.

France’s TotalEnergies (EPA:) CEO Patrick Pouyanne said he does not see peak oil demand in the numbers, adding “we should exit debate about peak oil demand, be serious, and invest.”

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) believes oil use will keep rising over the next two decades.

SOARING PRICES LAST WEEK

Oil prices rallied about 6% last week due to persistent threats to shipping in the Red Sea, Ukrainian strikes on Russian refineries and U.S. refinery maintenance.

Disruptions in the Red Sea continued, with Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen saying they targeted a cargo ship.

“We will again note that global crude supply has yet to be significantly disrupted by the Mideast hostilities and that rerouted oil cargoes around the Red Sea have not significantly reduced global crude supply,” analysts at energy advisory Ritterbusch and Associates said.

The Houthis have targeted shipping with drones and missiles since November in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The U.S. has led retaliatory strikes on Houthi missile sites since January.

In Gaza, Israel freed two hostages held by Iran-backed Hamas in Rafah in a ferocious rescue operation that killed 74 Palestinians.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the reason behind the kingdom’s recent decision to halt its oil capacity expansion plans was the energy transition, adding it has plenty of spare capacity to cushion the oil market.

Fellow OPEC member Iraq said it was committed to OPEC’s decisions and after its second voluntary cut announced in December, it also was committed to producing no more than 4 million barrels per day.

In the U.S., meanwhile, oil output in top shale-producing regions was on track to rise in March to a four-month high, according to a federal energy outlook.

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