Crude oil futures soften as bearish factors come in to play; ICE Brent down to $74.37/b, NYMEX WTI $69.40/b


London — Crude oil futures were showing signs of shedding their recent gains in European morning trading Friday as a sense of unease in the market and trading activity showing signs of fatigue battled to outweigh the recent bullish geopolitical news and US stock draw.

At 1000 GMT, the September ICE Brent crude futures contract was down 17 cents from the Thursday’s settle at $74.37/b, while the NYMEX WTI September contract was down 21 cents at $69.40/b.

“The softening of the near-term structure points to an underlying sense of unease,” PVM analysts said in a report Friday morning.

Adding to the bearish weight are the signs of fatigue developing in the market.

ICE Brent volumes have declined by a significant 29% between Monday and Thursday of this week, which “bares all the hallmarks of rally fatigue and will do little to underpin meek levels of upside potential,” PVM analysts said.

There is however still plenty of bullish news in the market and “in the absence of any major political or economic turmoil, Brent is likely to remain at above $70/b in the coming weeks,” Commerzbank analysts said in a morning note Friday.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, suspended all its oil shipments through the Bab el-Mandeb strait at the southern tip of the Red Sea, following an attack on two VLCCs by Yemeni Houthi militia.

Many market participants were largely unfazed by this event saying that oil trade will not be significantly disrupted by the halting of Saudi Aramco’s shipments through the strait unless the security situation deteriorates.

“The news of Saudi shipments via the Red Sea being suspended had amazingly little impact on the oil price,” Commerzbank analysts said.

Energy Information Administration data released late Wednesday — showing US crude inventories fell 6.15 million barrels to 404.94 million barrels in the week ended July 20 — and rising geopolitical tensions between the US and Iran also appear to have been digested by the market and are no longer providing much in the way of support to the oil complex.

In response to the rising tensions, PVM analysts said “once upon a time, such threats would have propelled oil prices higher…[but now] they offer little in the way of price support with market players having become accustomed to such theatrics.”

Looking towards the US, logistical issues remain, with pipeline capacity insufficient to keep up with rising production in the Permian basin.

“There is unlikely to be much relief until the second half of 2019, when new pipeline capacity is scheduled to start up,” ING analysts said in a note.

Market players will be looking towards the weather moving into next week — especially for any signs of potential hurricanes — as adverse weather conditions can have a significant impact on the oil market, potentially causing severe supply disruptions.