Economic clouds, OPEC jitters send oil prices lower

Japan's Central Bank said it saw risk in U.S. economic policy, geopolitical tensions and the pending British exit from the European Union.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Sept. 21, 2017 at 10:04 AM
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Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Concerns about global economic momentum and jitters ahead of an OPEC meeting in Vienna put an end Thursday to a strong rally in crude oil prices.

Oil prices have moved higher more or less unabated since the end of August, when Hurricane Harvey hit the large concentration of refineries in the southern United States. Some refineries are still offline and that turned markets upside down because of the strains on demand from Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida earlier this month.

Florida has no refineries of its own and U.S. markets are trying to adjust to the strains. After releasing oil from its own strategic reserves, Russian oil company Gazprom Neft said a recent shipment of oil to the United States from its assets in Iraq was its largest ever sent by sea to a foreign country.

In a sign of the broader pressure from the hurricanes in the United States, the U.S. Labor Department said first time-claims for unemployment for the week ending Sept. 16 were down 23,000 from the previous week. The four-week average, a less-volatile metric, showed an increase of 6,000 for its highest level since June 4, 2016.

"Hurricanes Harvey and Irma impacted this week's claims," the Labor Department said.

The price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, was down 0.6 percent at 9:08 a.m. EDT to $55.96 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was down 0.77 percent to $50.30 per barrel, still holding above the psychological threshold of $50.

The U.S. Federal Reserve voted Wednesday to keep the short-term target rate range unchanged at 1-1.25 percent. The Fed's policy committee said to expect near-term economic impacts from recent hurricanes in the United States.

Overseas, Japan's Central Bank said it too would keep its rate unchanged, seeing signs of recovery at home. In the foreign market, however, the bank said there were pressures coming from some of the world's leading economies.

"Risks to the outlook include the following: the U.S. economic policies and their impact on global financial markets; developments in emerging and commodity-exporting economies; negotiations on the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union and their effects; prospects regarding the European debt problem, including the financial sector; and geopolitical risks," the bank said Thursday.

Markets came under pressure during the previous session after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a build of 5.4 million barrels of oil in stock, more than analysts had expected. Data include inputs from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Stock levels matter for traders watching supply and demand metrics and ministers from a committee monitoring efforts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet Friday to consider the impact of its multilateral balancing act.

Iraq's oil minister this week said deeper cuts may be under consideration.

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