Oil Slips to Lowest in a Week as Traders Mull Reserves Release

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(Bloomberg) — Oil slid even after a U.S government report showed declines in crude and refined product inventories as investors resumed focus on the chances of the U.S. and China tapping their strategic reserves.

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Futures in New York fell as much as 2.1% on Wednesday to the lowest intraday level in more than a week. While President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed the merits of releasing oil from their reserves, Monday’s virtual summit didn’t make any decisions on the issue and both sides put forward their own views on the subject, according to officials familiar with the discussions. Meanwhile, in a letter on Wednesday, President Biden urged the Federal Trade Commission to probe possible illegal conduct in U.S. gasoline markets.

In the U.S., a weekly inventory report showed domestic crude stockpiles declined for the first time in a month. Gasoline inventories slid for a sixth straight week and are holding at the lowest since 2017.

“Energy markets are waiting to see what, if any, coordinated efforts with the U.S. and China happen before placing bullish bets,” said Ed Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda Corp.

Crude has drifted in a range of about $7 for the last six weeks, and traders are trying to figure out the market’s likely trajectory into 2022. The International Energy Agency said this week that while demand growth remains robust, supply is catching up. Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said a surplus may soon emerge as the rebound from the pandemic falters.

“When the trajectory of the oil market’s supply tightness is being challenged by both the IEA and OPEC, it’s difficult for the trading mood to not turn bearish,” said Louise Dickson, a senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy.

Japan, another major consumer that has voiced concern about high prices, is unlikely to release oil from its reserves due to a law that only allows it to release stocks in the event of supply disruptions, a government official said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration report showed domestic crude inventories fell 2.1 million barrels last week and gasoline stockpiles slid 707,000 barrels. Yet, supplies at the nation’s biggest storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, edged higher.

“The report was bullish, especially given the large crude oil inventory decline and persistently strong gasoline demand,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital LLC. But “the market’s gaze has been distracted once again by the White House. We appear to be another step closer to a release, which is pressuring prices.”

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