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Oil prices flat, caught in tug-of-war

Prices keeping relatively stable as broader market dynamics play out.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Oil prices in a holding pattern as competing narratives play out across the broader market. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI
Oil prices in a holding pattern as competing narratives play out across the broader market. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Crude oil prices started Monday in weak rally mode amid a tug-of-war in a market characterized by competing supply narratives.

The price for Brent crude oil moved briefly into negative territory in a possible response to last week's figures from oilfield services company Baker Hughes on exploration and production trends.

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The company, which was acquired in part last year by the oil and gas division of General Electric, reported an increase in U.S. rig activity for a twelfth week. A rally sparked by a decision from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to trim output pulled crude oil prices out of a long drought, but brought some producers in expensive shale off the bench.

Oil prices may be recovering in a correction of sorts after Friday's movement on rig counts. Brent crude was relatively unchanged about an hour before the start of trading Monday, up just 0.07 percent to $55.56 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price, was up 0.15 percent to $53.25 per barrel.

Tamas Varga with broker PVM said Monday's movement is reflective of the trend so far this year.

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"These are extraordinary times during which oil prices seem to be driven by daily sentiment," he said in an emailed note. "A rally of a day or two is followed by a sell-off as market players react to seemingly important news."

Monday's early stalemate on price direction may be part of an emerging ceiling on oil prices. So far, crude oil prices have yet to move out of the mid-$50 range despite large inter-day movements.

Crude oil was balanced against declines in the European market. The FTSE 100 in England was off by 54 points, while Germany's DAX index was down nearly 70. Declines there may reflect a broader sense of unease that followed U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial travel restrictions.

Elsewhere, Russia, which is party to the multilateral production decline agreement led by OPEC, reported significant gains in output from its only oil field in production in Arctic waters, Prirazlomnoye. Russian oil company Gazprom Neft said total production from the field was 15.7 million barrels for full-year 2016, an increase from the 5.8 million recorded the previous year.

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