By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices were up on Monday on rising optimism about COVID-19 vaccinations, a U.S. economic stimulus package and growing factory activity in Europe despite coronavirus restrictions.
Signs that Chinese oil demand is slowing kept prices from moving higher.
Brent crude rose 51 cents, or 0.8%, at $64.93 a barrel by 11:29 a.m. EST (1629 GMT), and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 28 cents, or 0.5%, to $61.78 a barrel.
Both contracts finished February 18% higher.
“The three major supportive factors are the prevalent vaccine rollouts, the optimism about economic growth and the view that the oil balance will get tighter as a result of the first two points,” PVM Oil Associates analyst Tamas Varga said.
Support also came from a $1.9 trillion coronavirus-related relief package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday.
If approved by the Senate, the stimulus package would pay for vaccines and medical supplies, and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households and small businesses, which will have a direct impact on energy demand.
The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot also buoyed the economic outlook.
Manufacturing data from around the world was mixed.
China’s factory activity growth slipped to a nine-month low in February, sounding alarms over Chinese crude buying and pressuring oil prices.
“One negative is more and more talk about Chinese oil demand maybe faltering, that they bought all the oil that they’re going to need for a while,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “There’s some talk that their strategic reserves are filled up and so some people are betting against the Chinese continuing to drive oil prices.”
German activity, on the other hand, hit its highest level in more than three years and Euro zone factory activity raced along, driven by rising demand.
OPEC oil output fell in February as a voluntary cut by Saudi Arabia added to agreed reductions under a pact with allies, a Reuters survey found, ending a run of seven consecutive monthly increases.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, meet on Thursday and could discuss allowing as much as 1.5 million barrels per day of crude back into the market.
(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Jessica Jaganathan and Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Jason Neely, Edmund Blair, Barbara Lewis, David Evans and Will Dunham)