MOSCOW (MRC) -- Oil prices fell on Friday and were also down on the week as surging cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant raised fears that new restrictions may hit fuel demand, reported Reuters.
"There are concerns about COVID that won't go away, and the perception that could weigh on demand is putting pressure on the market," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.
Brent crude futures settled down USD1.50, or 2%, at USD73.52 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude dropped USD1.52, or 2.1%, tosettle at USD70.86 a barrel. Brent was down 2.6% on the week and WTI fell 1.3%.
In Denmark, South Africa and Britain, the number of new Omicron cases has been doubling every two days. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Friday her government would propose new restrictions to limit the spread.
In the United States, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has led some companies to pause plans to get workers back into offices.
"Messages of caution and warnings of a worsening COVID wave are starting to ring louder with the approach of the year-end holiday season, dampening market sentiment," said Vandana Hari, energy analyst at Vanda Insights. "Crude may remain in a holding pattern, albeit with plenty of price volatility around the mean, in holiday-thinned trading over the next couple of weeks."
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and allies, together known as OPEC+, have said they could meet before their scheduled Jan. 4 meeting if changes in the demand outlook warrant a review of their plans to add 400,000 barrels per day of supply in January.
"We could see further consolidation around USD70 in the coming sessions as we learn more about Omicron, what restrictions it will bring, and whether OPEC+ will react," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.
The US oil rig count, a leading indicator of output, rose in the week, prompting concerns of potential oversupply. The oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose by three to 579 in the week to Dec. 17, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its closely followed report on Friday.
But despite the Omicron threats to demand, Goldman Sachs said on Friday the new variant has had limited impact on mobility or oil demand, adding that it expected oil consumption to hit record highs in 2022 and 2023.
Oil prices have retreated from multi-year highs earlier in the fourth quarter on improved supplies.
As MRC informed before, US commercial crude stocks fell 3.48 million barrels to 413.96 million barrels in the week ended Sept. 17, to more than 8% below the five-year average, Energy Information Administration data showed. Stocks were last lower Oct. 5, 2018.
We remind that in late August, 2021, US crude stocks dropped sharply while petroleum products supplied by refiners hit an all-time record despite the rise in coronavirus cases nationwide, the Energy Information Administration said. Crude inventories fell by 7.2 million barrels in the week to Aug. 27 to 425.4 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 3.1 million-barrel drop. Product supplied by refineries, a measure of demand, rose to 22.8 million barrels per day in the most recent week. That's a one-week record, and signals strength in consumption for diesel, gasoline and other fuels by consumers and exporters.
We also remind that US crude oil production is expected to fall by 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to 11.12 million bpd, EIA said in a monthly report earlier this year, a smaller decline than its previous forecast for a drop of 210,000 bpd.