Uncertainty over whether Friday's key U.S. job report will be strong enough for the Federal Reserve to start winding down bond purchases combined with delays to military action against Syria are dividing opinion in the oil market over near-term price direction, CNBC's latest sentiment survey shows.
About half of those polled - nearly 46 percent, or 11 out of 24 - believe prices will gain this week while the exact same number said prices will fall. The split result suggests heightened volatility in the first trading week of a new month which is replete with global risk events spanning U.S. monetary policy and Middle Eastern tensions to weakness in emerging markets. Two respondents expect the market to trade at around current levels, CNBC's poll showed.
"We are cautiously bullish in what will be headline driven trade" this week, said David Nevin, an energy broker at Xconnect Trading in London. How much Friday's non-farm payrolls data and associated "taper fears" affect the oil market "will depend on whether the strike on Syria has passed without any retaliation."
Brent crude oil futures fell in volatile trade on Friday ahead of a long holiday weekend in the United States, as the Obama administration made a case for a "limited" strike against Syria, Reuters reported. For the week, Brent and U.S. crude both posted gains, going against last week's CNBC survey. Brent's monthly rise in August was its biggest such gain in a year.
Brent crude fell $1.15 to settle at $114.01 a barrel on Friday, gaining 2.7 percent in the past week while U.S. crude fell $1.15 to end at $107.65 after hitting a session low of $106.75. U.S. crude finished the week up 1.2 percent.
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A consensus view that has emerged is that any Syria-led price gain may be temporary.
Last week's jump in Brent crude to six-month highs has been blunted as the West delays military action against Syria paring risks of a broader regional conflict and possible associated supply disruptions.
However, if the regime of Bashar al-Assad is targeted by punitive airstrikes for the alleged use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb last month, some fear a short, sharp spike in Brent to as high as $125 a barrel and possibly slightly higher.
A jump in Brent crude to between $120 and $127 "should be short lived with prices likely to revert to levels at around $100 and 105 in three to six months, as the strong seasonal demand growth this quarter starts to level off in the fourth-quarter," said Dominic Schnider, Head of Commodity Research at UBS AG's wealth-management unit in Singapore. "In our base case scenario of a limited military strike on Syria lasting a couple of days, additional oil supply disruptions are unlikely."