Futures Movers: U.S. oil prices settle at a 2-month high on fading omicron worries, tight supplies

Oil futures rose Tuesday, with U.S. prices marking their highest finish in about two months, supported by tight supplies and growing expectations that the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus won’t derail global demand.

The market theme is “about demand recovery rather than supply concerns, although both are supportive of oil prices,” Manish Raj, chief financial officer at Velandera Energy Partners, told MarketWatch. Despite omicron’s spread, “global oil demand remains robust among all modes of transportation.”

West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery CL00, +4.14% CLG22, +4.14% rose $2.99, or 3.8%, to settle at at $81.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the highest front-month contract prices finish since Nov. 11, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

March Brent crude BRN00, +0.06% BRNH22, +0.06%, the global benchmark, rose $2.85, or 3.5%, to $83.72 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe — the highest settlement since Nov. 9.

Both WTI and Brent have rallied nearly 8% so far in 2022.

Among the petroleum products, February gasoline RBG22, +3.60% rose 3.6% to $2.357 a gallon and February heating oil HOG22, +3.19% added 3.1% to $2.564 a gallon.

Tuesday’s gains came despite reports that production in Libya had recovered and that activity at Kazakhstan’s Tengiz oil field had returned to normal. Worries about hits to production in the two countries had helped to lift crude last week.

Oil production in Libya has returned to 1 million barrels a day after militias lifted a three-week blockade of oil fields, including the nation’s largest, Bloomberg reported. Chevron Corp. CVX, +2.29%, which leads the Tengizchevroil consortium, said production at Kazakhstan’s 600,000-barrel-a-day Tengiz oil field has returned to normal after being disrupted by unrest last week, according to Argus.

While exports from Libya’s western oil ports are likely to begin again soon, exports “from most of Libya’s other oil ports have been suspended due to bad weather this week, meaning that the higher oil production in the country has not yet translated directly into an increase in available oil supply,” said Carsten Fritsch, commodity analyst at Commerzbank, in a note. “This may explain why oil prices have not responded as yet to the reopening of the Libyan oil fields.”

Traders are also closely watching tensions within Kazakhstan but there has not been any meaningful impact to oil production, said Velandera Energy’s Raj.

“Traders are factoring in a low likelihood of widespread production disruptions,” he said. “Since Kazakhstan has consistently exceeded its OPEC+ quota, a small disruption will only bring it back to compliance.”

OPEC+, comprised of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, saw production quota compliance rise to 116.5% in December, but the 19 members subject to the output targets pumped some 620,000 barrels per day below their combined caps, according to an S&P Global Platts survey released Tuesday.

The report on the survey results said Platts Analytics still expects the market to be oversupplied in the first three months of the year, but estimates OPEC+ sustainable spare production capacity will shrink to 800,000 b/d by June if it maintains its monthly quota rises, creating “an uncomfortably thin market buffer in the second half of the year.”

Still, the Energy Information Administration expects annual U.S. production to reach a record next year. In a monthly report Tuesday, the government agency sees output rising to 12.4 million barrels per day in 2023, the highest annual average on record.

Meanwhile, tensions between Russia and Ukraine effect “natural-gas volatility, but not so much oil prices, as Ukraine is the main channel to transport Russian gas to Western Europe,” Raj said.

On Nymex, February natural gas NGG22, +3.90% settled at $4.249 per million British thermal units, up 4.2%, after climbing by roughly that same amount on Monday.

Weekly data on U.S. petroleum supplies from the EIA will be released on Wednesday. On average, analysts polled by S&P Global Platts forecast a decline of 1.6 million barrels in U.S. crude supplies for the week ended Jan. 7. They also expect to see inventory increases of 3 million barrels for gasoline and 2 million barrels for distillates.

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