Oil rises above $110 on mounting Ukraine tension
Global oil prices rose above $110 a barrel on Wednesday, shaking off slower economic growth in China, as tensions mounted in Ukraine.
Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian militia staged rival shows of force in eastern Ukraine amid escalating rhetoric on the eve of crucial four-power talks on the former Soviet state’s future.
Brent crude for June delivery reversed early losses to rise by a dollar and was trading up 75 cents at $110.11 by 1418 GMT, its highest since March 4. The May contract expired on Tuesday. U.S. crude for May delivery rose more than $1 and was trading up 80 cents at $104.55 a barrel.
Brent’s premium to U.S. West Texas Intermediate CL-LCO1=R crude narrowed on Wednesday but remains at its widest in two weeks, lifted by oilfield maintenance that has curbed supplies of North Sea crude grades as well as geopolitical risks.
“It is maintenance season in the North Sea. Loading for the four grades that make up the benchmark are down for May and this also drives up Brent,” Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas, said.
“The situation in eastern Ukraine has deteriorated in the past couple of days but ... no one is pricing in economic sanctions due to Russia’s interdependence with European energy needs.”
On Tuesday, the European Union scrambled for solutions to ease its dependence on Russian gas and help supply Ukraine. Russia supplies 30 percent of Europe’s gas needs.
Growing scepticism that Libyan exports can resume quickly or sustainably has also supported Brent.
A tanker started loading at Libya’s eastern port of Hariga on Wednesday for the first time in nearly nine months, after a federalist group agreed to reopen the port last week.
But the larger terminals of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider remain in rebel hands and their fate is subject to further negotiations with the government of the OPEC exporter.
Fresh evidence of slowing economic growth in China, the world’s second-largest economy and oil consumer, had put pressure on oil prices early in the day though the figures were stronger than many had expected.
China said its gross domestic product grew by 7.4 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace in 18 months but slightly ahead of market forecasts of a 7.3 percent rise.
“It’s not necessarily a negative for oil but it’s not providing the support that was anticipated,” Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said.
A slowing economy dampened energy use in China as its implied oil demand fell 0.6 percent to 9.96 million barrels per day in the first quarter, forcing refiners to scale back crude runs and raise exports to trim high fuel stocks. Investors were also awaiting weekly oil inventory data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration due on Wednesday. Data from industry group American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday showed that U.S. crude inventories rose 7.6 million barrels in the week to April 11, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 2.3 million.
If Wednesday’s numbers support the unexpectedly large build shown in the API data, U.S. crude would likely give up gains, particularly as it faces a technical barrier at around $105 a barrel, Tchilinguirian said.