Oil Prices Finish Higher as OPEC+ Yield Leeway for Modifications

Oil emerged higher from a volatile morning after OPEC and its partners left themselves room to quickly adjust output plans if the pandemic drastically changes the market.

West Texas Intermediate was about 1% higher after earlier falling as much as 4.8% on Thursday. Futures recovered from their steep plunge after the group said it was keeping its meeting open to adjust plans on short notice if necessary. It’s an unusual step that underscores the uncertain outlook amid a resurgent pandemic. 

Traders had widely expected OPEC+ to defer the 400,000 barrel a day supply increase with concern growing that the omicron coronavirus variant will hurt demand. Prices have plunged into a bear market in recent days, and as the group met, Germany announced strict coronavirus curbs, underscoring the risk to demand. 

“The genius move was keeping this meeting open,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “You will not be brave enough to sell against that.”

Oil has dropped more than 20% since late October on a White House-led coordinated reserves release and, more recently, the new virus variant. An increasingly hawkish tone from the Federal Reserve is also weighing on the growth outlook for the U.S. economy. A major, as yet unanswered, question is whether existing virus drugs will work against omicron.

Still, there are those who think oil’s drop has been overdone. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said prices have “far overshot” the impact of omicron. Bank of America Corp. said it was sticking to its $85-a-barrel forecast in 2022, with possible surges past $100 if air travel rebounds.  

The recent selloff in prices has stretched all the way along the futures curve. The key Dec.-Red-Dec. spread, a gauge used by traders to bet on the health of the market, is at its weakest since February. Options markets have been roiled too, with volatility soaring to its highest since May last year.

Prices

  • WTI for January delivery rose 43 cents to $66 a barrel as of 1:06 p.m. in New York
  • Brent for February settlement rose 30 cents to $69.17 a barrel

As OPEC+ gathers, there are continued negotiations around the revival of the Iran nuclear deal. Officials from the country presented proposals for the process of sanctions removal, local media said, though there remains little sign of an imminent deal to return supply to the market. 

The U.S., meanwhile, is sticking to its guns on the reserves sale. There are no plans to change the timing or amount of the announced release of 50 million barrels, the Energy Department said in a statement.

(With assistance from Javier Blas)


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