Oil drifts near $69 as trade spat counters signs of lower supply

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Oil traded below $69 a barrel as investors weighed the prospect of shrinking global demand due to a trade spat between the world’s two biggest economies against signs of lower supply.

While futures were little changed in New York on Monday, that follows a 7.6 percent decline over the past five weeks. China released a list of $60 billion in U.S. goods that will be targeted with tariffs in retaliation for America’s plan to impose duties on $200 billion in imports from the Asian nation. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is said to have cut output after signs that it couldn’t find buyers to justify pumping record levels. Meanwhile, U.S. drillers reduced the number of rigs put to work.

After crude posted its worst monthly loss in two years in July as the U.S.-China friction raised fears over global economic growth, investors are trying to assess how the conflict will affect oil demand. American President Donald Trump defended his use of tariffs that have inflamed tensions with the Asian nation and Europe, saying that playing hardball on trade is “ my thing.” Traders are also watching output from OPEC and its allies as signs of a surplus of high-quality crude are emerging again.

“The intensifying trade tension between the U.S. and China is definitely one element that’s restricting oil from rising higher,” Ahn Yea Ha, a commodities analyst at Kiwoom Securities Co., said by phone from Seoul. “The dispute will most likely continue until at least the November election in the U.S., but the market expects them to reconcile because a full-blown trade war will end up hurting both.”

West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery traded at $68.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 19 cents, at 7:43 a.m. in London. The contract slid 47 cents to $68.49 on Friday. Total volume traded was about 52 percent below the 100-day average.


Brent for October settlement traded at $73.39 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, up 18 cents. The contract declined 24 cents to $73.21 on Friday. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.86 premium to WTI for the same month.

Futures for September delivery added 0.9 percent to 517.9 yuan a barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange, after gaining 2 percent on Friday.

Trump continued his focus on tariffs Sunday morning, tweeting that the duties are working “big time” and that imported goods should be taxed or made in the U.S. He also said in a string of tweets on Saturday that the U.S. market is “stronger than ever,” while the Chinese market “has dropped 27% in last 4 months, and they are talking to us.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, reduced crude output last month, according to OPEC delegates familiar with the matter. The nation, which has led recent pledges by the group to raise production and tame prices by filling any potential supply gaps, pumped 10.3 million barrels a day in July. The kingdom told the cartel it produced 10.489 million in June.

“We’re getting conflicting information about whether Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members are boosting or cutting production, and this is creating some mistrust in the market,” Kiwoom’s Ahn said. — Bloomberg