January 14, 2019 / 3:20 AM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 3-Oil falls by 1 pct on China trade slump, although crude imports remain high

* Brent crude oil falls back below $60 per barrel

* China reports slump in import-export data

* Despite weak trade data, China oil imports hold above 10 mln bpd

* OPEC-led supply cuts also provide oil with some support (Updates prices)

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Oil prices fell by 1 percent on Monday, with Brent crude slipping below $60 per barrel, after Chinese data showed weakening imports and exports in the world’s biggest trading nation and second-largest crude oil consumer.

International Brent crude oil futures were at $59.88 per barrel at 0816 GMT, down 60 cents, or 1 percent from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 59 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $51 a barrel.

China’s overall exports fell by 4.4 percent in December from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years, official data showed on Monday, pointing to further weakening in the world’s second-largest economy. Imports also contracted, falling 7.6 percent, the biggest decline since July 2016.

“Crude futures were back in the red as trading began for a fresh week in Asia, in tandem with most of the region’s stock markets ... (as) China early Monday reported a $351.76 billion trade surplus in dollar terms for 2018, the lowest since 2013,” said energy consultant Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights in a note.

The weak data confirms a raft of indicators that have been pointing to an economic slowdown since the second half of 2018.

“Producer price inflation has decelerated for six consecutive months, adding to other signs of cooling industrial activity (in China) amid weakening global demand,” ratings agency Moody’s said in a note.

Traders said the data pulled down crude oil futures and Asian stock markets alike, which had both posted modest gains earlier on Monday.

Economic research firm TS Lombard said oil prices were capped as “the world economy is now slowing ... limiting the scope for positive surprises in oil demand and hampering inventory reduction.”

Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Denmark’s Saxo Bank, said “the deterioration seen recently in forward-looking economic data from the U.S. to Europe and China” meant that the upside for crude oil futures was likely limited to $64 per barrel for Brent and for $55 for WTI.

Despite the weak Chinese trade data, the country’s oil imports remained near record levels in December at 10.31 million barrels per day (bpd), holding above the 10 million bpd mark for the second month in a row, on stockbuilding by small independent refiners who were trying to use up annual quotas.

Amid this strong demand from the world’s top oil importer, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-OPEC allies, including Russia, have been cutting supply since late 2018, providing crude prices some support.

In the United States, drillers cut four oil rigs in the week to Jan. 11, bringing the total count down to 873 RIG-OL-USA-BHI, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in a weekly report on Friday.

Reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue

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