Oil futures settle at lowest since early July, pressured by demand worries and a rise in U.S. supplies

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Oil futures declined on Thursday, with worries about energy demand and a sharp rise in U.S. crude inventories over the past two weeks leading prices to their lowest settlement in more than four months.

Price action

  • West Texas Intermediate crude
    CL00,
    +1.98%
    for December delivery
    CL.1,
    +1.53%

    CLZ23
    fell $3.76, or 4.9%, to settle at $72.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

  • January Brent crude
    BRN00,
    +0.32%

    BRNF24,
    the global benchmark, declined $3.76, or 4.6%, to $77.42 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Based on the front-month contracts, Brent and WTI crude both finished the session at their lowest since July 6, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

  • December gasoline
    RBZ23
    lost 4.6% to $2.10 a gallon, while December heating oil
    HOZ23
    shed 4.1% to $2.75 a gallon.

  • Natural gas for December delivery
    NGZ23
    settled at $3.06 per million British thermal units, down 4%.

Market drivers

“Although the recent builds in U.S. [crude] inventories aren’t helping matters, the decline in crude-oil prices appears to be driven by concerns about falling demand,” Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at SIA Wealth Management, told MarketWatch.

WTI crude prices on Thursday started to “really slide about the time that the poor U.S. industrial-production report came out — a sign of a potentially softening economy that could impact energy demand,” he said.

Also see: Oil futures are slipping into a condition known as contango. What does that mean for prices?

U.S. data released Thursday showed industrial production fell 0.6% in October. The National Association of Home Builders monthly confidence index in November also declined 6 points to 34 in November, and while the Philadelphia Fed said its gauge of regional business activity improved in November, it remained in contractionary territory.

Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday released two weeks of U.S. petroleum-supply data, after having delayed last week’s numbers due to planned system updates.

Read: Why the U.S. government is changing the way it collects data on the oil market

The government agency reported that U.S. commercial crude inventories rose by 3.6 million barrels for the week ending Nov. 10 to total 439.4 million barrels. The data showed inventories rose by 13.9 million barrels in the week ending Nov. 3, for a two-week rise of 17.5 million barrels.

At 439.4 million barrels, crude stocks are below the five-year average but are trending back toward more typical levels for this time of year, ING commodity analysts Warren Patterson and Ewa Manthey noted.

In terms of oil demand, “it also appears that seasonal factors may be playing a role,” SIA Wealth’s Cieszynski said. “Crude oil has dropped off along with gasoline following the end of summer driving and air-travel season, while natural gas has been stable lately,” relatively outperforming oil with the winter home-heating season approaching, he said.

In a report Thursday, the EIA said U.S. natural-gas supplies in storage rose by 60 billion cubic feet for the week ending Nov. 10. It also said supplies declined by 6 billion cubic feet for the week ending Nov. 3.

On average, analysts surveyed by S&P Global Commodity Insights forecast an increase of 32 billion cubic feet for the two-week period ending Nov. 10.

Meanwhile, Amos Hochstein, a White House energy adviser, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that the U.S. would enforce sanctions against Iran and that the country’s crude exports “will come down.” Lax enforcement of the sanctions has been seen as allowing Iranian crude exports to grow.

Stricter enforcement of sanctions could take 500,000 to 1 million barrels a day of crude off the market, Patterson and Manthey said, “enough to tighten up the global oil balance significantly through 2024.”

The decline would be partly offset by a marginal rise in Venezuelan supplies after the U.S. eased sanctions on that country, as well as by the potential restart of Kurdish oil flows that could bring around 500,000 barrels a day back onto the market, the analysts said.

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