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A crude oil tanker is seen at Qingdao Port, Shandong province, China on April 21 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Jason Lee
A crude oil tanker is seen at Qingdao Port, Shandong province, China on April 21 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Singapore — Oil prices eased for a second session on Friday on growing concerns that Washington may soon act to cool prices, while movement controls in China to rein in a Covid-19 outbreak weighed on fuel demand.

Brent crude futures fell 30c, or 0.4%, to $84.17 a barrel at 1.50am GMT. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 45c, or 0.6%, at $81.67 a barrel.

China, the No 2 oil consumer globally, has suspended some international flights and stepped up efforts to rein in a virus outbreak at Tianjin while the highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread to the northeastern city of Dalian.

Many cities, including Beijing, have also urged people to stay put during the Lunar New Year holiday, which could cool demand for transport fuel during a peak travel season.

“Market is a bit toppish,” said Avtar Sandu, a commodities manager at Phillip Futures in Singapore, adding that reports on the Covid-19 situation in China and the sale of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) in the US were a concern.

The US energy department said on Thursday it had sold 18- million barrels of strategic crude oil reserves to six companies, including ExxonMobil and a unit of refiner Valero Energy Corporation.

Nevertheless, Brent and WTI prices are set to climb for a fourth week in a row, supported by supply concerns in Libya and Kazakhstan and a drop in US crude inventories to 2018 lows. Some investors are also optimistic that Omicron’s affect on the global economy and oil demand will be short-lived.

Several banks have forecast oil prices to hit $100 a barrel later this year as demand is expected to outstrip supply.

“The short-term outlook still has many risks, but optimism is high that it will be short-lived,” Oanda analyst Edward Moya said in a note.

However, with oil prices above $80 a barrel, there is growing political pressure for the White House to lobby Opec+ to hit their production quotas, he said.

“Biden may resort to another SPR release and while that won't solve any problems, it could send WTI crude down to the $80 level,” Moya said.

Reuters

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