Oil prices post second weekly loss despite rising US demand and earnings rally

US economic growth slowed to 1.1 per cent in the first quarter

Oil prices are falling as fears of a recession grow. Reuters.
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Oil pricesregistered their second weekly loss dragged down by concerns of a recession and fears of further interest rate increases even as energy companies posted strong earnings and US data showed crude output was declining while demand was growing.

Brent, the benchmark for two thirds of the world’s oil, closed 2.7 per cent higher at $80.33 a barrel on Friday. West Texas Intermediate, the gauge that tracks US crude, settled up 2.7 per cent at $76.78 a barrel.

Despite ending the day higher on Friday, this was the second consecutive weekly decline for both benchmarks. Brent declined about 3 per cent this week after shedding around 5 per cent the prior week, while WTI fell about 1 per cent this week after losing about 6 per cent the week before.

“After hearing from Exxon and Chevron, it is hard not to be short-term bullish oil prices," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

Exxon chief executive Darren Woods was "constructive on the demand outlook, adding that gasoline demand is reasonable and that jet fuel demand is trending up", Mr Moya said.

While Chevron's chief executive Mike Wirth "noted that jet demand is growing and travel is up to nearly 90 per cent of pre-Covid levels".

"Crude prices should have no trouble rallying above the $80 a barrel level if China's weekend PMI data shows the recovery is gaining steam.”

Mr Moya said the US economy is heading towards a rough patch, but it might still have another good quarter left before a recession starts.

US economic growth slowed to 1.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year as an increase in consumer spending was offset by businesses liquidating inventories, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

The figure came in below economists' expectations of 2 per cent growth, while core personal consumption expenditure for the first quarter rose by 4.9 per cent, versus economists' projections of 4.7 per cent growth.

The world’s largest economy grew by 2.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Markets were also rattled as fears of a banking crisis were revived this week after California-based First Republic Bank disclosed that its deposits had plunged by about $102 billion during the first quarter.

Shares of First Republic closed up nearly 9 per cent to $6.19 at the end of trading on Thursday, but they are down 95 per cent since the start of this year.

The White House is continuing to monitor the situation at First Republic Bank, following its disclosure this week, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Brent has given up all of its gains made since Opec+ members announced voluntary crude production cuts of 1.66 million barrels per day on April 2.

The output curbs, which will be in place from May until the end of December, are aimed at supporting the stability of the oil market, producers said.

“The bearish bias in the oil market reflects demand-side concerns as broader macroeconomic indicators point to a slowdown in global growth momentum,” Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank economists said in a research note.

“The Opec+ announcement was also likely influenced by the build-up in short positions following banking sector turmoil in the US and eurozone in March,” the bank said.

“While macro uncertainties persist, our base-case does not envisage a sharp recession.”

Energy traders will be closely following the US Federal Reserve meeting next week for guidance on interest rates.

“Traders know that the US economy is experiencing a difficult time, and it is pretty much a given that the Fed is going to increase the interest rate by another 25 basis points,” said Naeem Aslam, chief investment officer at Zaye Capital Markets.

“This means that earnings are going to be adversely influenced further in the coming quarter, and the US economy will face further slowdown,” Mr Aslam said.

US commercial crude stocks — an indicator of fuel demand — fell by 5.1 million barrels last week, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting a drop of 1.5 million barrels.

Petroleum stocks decreased by 2.4 million barrels last week, while distillate fuel inventories recorded a 600,000-barrel drop, according to EIA data.

Updated: April 30, 2023, 12:13 PM