Oil prices edge higher after sell-off driven by demand concerns

French oil giant Total Refinery is seen during sunset in Donges
FILE PHOTO: French oil giant Total Refinery is seen during sunset in Donges, France, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

March 19, 2021

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose slightly on Friday in a volatile trading session, following a big sell-off the previous day as a new wave of coronavirus infections across Europe triggered fresh lockdowns and dampened expectations of any imminent recovery in fuel demand.

Brent crude was up 31 cents, or 0.5%, at $63.59 a barrel by 1450 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) U.S. crude rose 37 cents, or 0.6%, to $60.37. Both traded within a wide range of more than $2 a barrel on Friday.

Oil closed about 7% down on Thursday as several large European economies reimposed lockdowns and vaccination programmes were slowed by distribution issues and concerns over potential side effects.

Although Germany, France and other countries have announced the resumption of inoculations with the AstraZeneca shot after regulators declared that vaccine safe, the programme halt has made it harder to overcome resistance to vaccines among some of the population.

Britain also announced it would have to slow its COVID-19 vaccine rollout next month because of a supply delay.

“Concerns are rapidly growing of a mobility-depressing third wave in Europe amid a pause in vaccinations and rapid spread of the B117 mutation that originated in the UK,” JP Morgan said.

The bank still sees Brent averaging above $70 a barrel in the fourth quarter, however.

Goldman Sachs said headwinds related to European Union demand and Iran supply would slow the oil market rebalancing by 750,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the second quarter, though it expects the OPEC+ grouping of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies to take action to offset that.

Iran has moved record amounts of crude oil to top client China in recent months while India’s state refiners have added Iranian oil to their annual import plans on the assumption that U.S. sanctions on the OPEC supplier will soon ease.

Goldman expects a significant increase in global oil demand in the coming months, with its Brent forecast rising to $80 a barrel this summer.

(Additional reporting by Shu Zhang in Singapore and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Jason Neely, David Goodman and Frances Kerry)