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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Oil prices edged higher on Thursday, extending gains from the previous session, as an EU proposal for new sanctions against Russia, including an embargo on crude in six months, offset concerns over Chinese demand.

Brent crude futures had climbed 35 US cents, or 0.3%, to $110.49 a barrel by 2.09am GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 25c, or 0.2%, to $108.06 a barrel.

Both benchmarks jumped more than $1 a barrel earlier in the volatile session after gaining more than $5 a barrel on Wednesday.

The sanctions proposal, which was announced by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and needs unanimous backing by the 27 EU countries to take effect, includes phasing out supplies of Russian crude in six months and refined products by the end of 2022.

It also proposes to ban in a month’s time all shipping, brokerage, insurance and financing services offered by EU companies for the transportation of Russian oil.

“That’s a likely game changer for oil and refined product markets,” CBA analyst Vivek Dhar said in a note, adding that sanctions on insurance, previously used by the US and European countries, were effective in limiting Iran’s oil exports.

However, the EU faces the task of finding alternative supplies at a time when energy prices have surged. It imports about 3.5-million barrels of Russian oil and oil products daily and also depends on Moscow’s gas supplies.

A handful of eastern EU countries are concerned that the proposal gives them insufficient time to adapt.

“The most immediate questions are how many countries will receive exemptions, the scope of the additional sanctions measures to curtail Russian oil exports to other key markets, and President [Vladimir] Putin’s response to the European action,” Helima Croft, RBC Capital Market’s head of global commodity strategy, said in a note.

“We think the price response to such measures will depend on how far they go in making Russia’s 4.8-million bpd [barrels per day] of global exports unavailable as opposed to unpopular.”

On Thursday, oil cartel Opec and allied producers, known as Opec+, is expected to agree to raise production targets by 432,000 barrels bpd for June, four Opec+ delegates told Reuters. Opec+ would thereby stick to plans for a gradual ramp-up of monthly production.

Opec secretary-general Mohammad Barkindo reiterated that it was not possible for other producers to replace Russian supply but expressed concerns about slowing demand for transportation fuels and petrochemicals in the world’s top importer, China, because of Covid-19 lockdowns.

A private-sector survey showed on Thursday that China’s services sector activity contracted at the second-steepest rate on record in April under the effect of pandemic measures.

In the US, crude stocks were up 1.2-million barrels last week after more oil was released from strategic reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Reuters

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