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Oil Hits $70 a Barrel

January 6, 2020

© Pavel Ignatov / Adobe Stock
© Pavel Ignatov / Adobe Stock

Oil prices rose a further 2% on Monday, pushing Brent above $70 a barrel, as rhetoric from the United States, Iran and Iraq fanned tensions in the Middle East after a U.S. air strike which killed a top Iranian military commander.

Brent crude futures soared to a high of $70.74 a barrel and was at $69.74 at 0940 GMT, up $1.14, or 1.66%, from Friday's settlement.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $63.92 a barrel, up 87 cents, or 1.38%, after touching $64.72, the highest since April.

The gains extended Friday's more than 3% surge after a U.S. air strike in Iraq killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on Friday, heightening concerns about an escalation in conflict in the Middle East and the possible impact on oil supplies.

The region accounts for nearly half of the world's oil production, while a fifth of the world's oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz.

On Sunday U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq, the second largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), if U.S. troops were forced to withdraw from the country.

Baghdad earlier called on U.S. and other foreign troops to leave Iraq.

Trump also said that the United States would retaliate against Iran if Tehran were to strike back after the killing.

"The situation brings lots of uncertainty and geopolitical tea-leaf reading on reactions. While the closure of the Strait of Hormuz remains a very unlikely event, the deterioration in Iraq bears supply risks," said Norbert Rucker, head of economics at Swiss bank Julius Baer.

"Geopolitics tend to be a temporary force on oil markets and we believe this time is no different. We raise our near-term forecast to $65 per barrel, and maintain a neutral view".

Goldman Sachs analysts said the current risk premium embedded in Brent monthly price spreads is already elevated and an actual supply disruption is now necessary to sustain current oil prices.

"The precedent set by the Abqaiq attack (on Saudi oil facilities in September 2019) showed that the oil market has significant supply flexibility starting when Brent is at $70 a barrel, even before shale production needs to ramp up, suggesting only moderate upside from here, should an attack on oil assets actually occur," the bank said.

In the United States, U.S. crude stocks fell by their most since June as exports exceeded 4 million barrels per day for the first time in history, the Energy Information Administration said on Friday.

Elsewhere, bad weather shut all four oil export terminals in eastern Libya on Sunday and the closure could last three days, port sources said.

(Additional reporting by Florence Tan; editing by Jason Neely)

Categories: Energy Middle East Oil


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