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Oil drops 2% in light trading on China demand concern

2022 12 28T021156Z 1 LYNXMPEIBR01B RTROPTP 4 GLOBAL OIL RALLY - Global Banking | Finance

By Shariq Khan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices dipped on Wednesday as traders weighed concerns over a surge in COVID-19 cases in China, the world’s top oil importer, against the chances easing pandemic restrictions in the country will boost fuel demand.

Brent crude futures fell $1.69, or 2%, to $82.64 a barrel by 10:01 a.m. EST [1501 GMT], while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell $1.55, or 2%, to $77.98 per barrel.

China said it will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8, a major step towards relaxing stringent curbs on its borders.

However, Chinese hospitals have been under intense pressure due to a surge in COVID-19 infections.

“Even after China eased COVID restrictions, it is difficult for demand to recover in a short time due to the rapid decline of people’s outdoor activities due to the massive infection (numbers),” said Leon Li, an analyst at CMC Markets.

Oil markets were also buffeted by rising expectations of another interest rate hike in the United States, as the U.S. Federal Reserve tries to limit price rises in a tight labor market.

Trading volumes over this week are expected to be lower than usual as the end of the year approaches, leading to volatility in oil prices.

Both benchmarks had hit their highest in three weeks on Tuesday, as a cold snap across the U.S. forced shutdowns at production sites and refineries, including production and refining shutdowns across North Dakota and Texas at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Russia said it aims to ban oil sales from Feb. 1 to countries that abide by a G7 price cap imposed on Dec. 5, although details of how the ban would work were unclear.

U.S. crude oil stocks were estimated to have fallen 1.6 million barrels last week with distillate inventories also seen down, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Tuesday.

Industry group the American Petroleum Institute is due to release data at 4.30 p.m. EDT [2130 GMT] on Wednesday. The U.S. government will release its figures at 10.30 a.m. on Thursday.

(Reporting by Shariq Khan, additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Arathy Somasekhar, Isabel Kua; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Christian Schmollinger, Louise Heavens and Barbara Lewis)

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