US oil closes 0.3% lower, falls from more than 3-year high

Workers on the stairs of an oil storage tank at the Musket Corp. Windsor Crude Terminal in Windsor, Colorado.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Oil prices traded lower on Thursday as a rising dollar and climbing interest rates knocked off the commodity from its highest levels in more than three years.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures topped out at $69.56 a barrel, the highest level since Nov. 28, 2014, when WTI hit $73.56. The contract settled down 18 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $68.29.

International benchmark rose 30 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $73.79 by 2:33 p.m. ET. It earlier rose to $74.74, its best intraday price since Nov. 27, when Brent peaked at $77.46.

The dollar index, which tracks the dollar's performance against six other currencies, rose 0.2 percent to 89.82, while the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield broke above 2.9 percent.

Earlier on Thursday, crude futures were extending gains from the previous session, which came after the Energy Information Administration reported U.S. crude stockpiles fell by 1.1 million barrels last week.

The weekly figures also showed gasoline demand rose to 9.86 million barrels a day ahead of the summer driving season.

The "EIA inventories we got yesterday were Bullish across the board as the EIA showed record gasoline products supplied," Roberto Friedlander, head of energy trading at Seaport Global Securities, said in a research note.

The EIA report provided additional support in an already bullish environment, as tensions escalate among world powers involved in Syria's civil war and rocket attacks by Yemeni rebels target top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

"What we're seeing is the re-emergence of a geopolitical risk premium — which was absent for the past few years — as the underlying market has gotten tighter," said Tamar Essner, director of energy and utilities at Nasdaq Corporate Solutions.

Saudi Arabia is 'going to the whip' to drive oil prices higher, says pro

The market's attention is also shifting to a deadline that President Donald Trump faces in just over three weeks to extend sanctions relief for Iran, OPEC's third-biggest oil producer.

Trump says he will not waive the sanctions unless he can reach a deal with France, Germany and the U.K. to toughen the terms of the deal — an outcome that is far from certain.

"We've had some resistance from the EU three that we've been dealing with, but maybe there will be a breakthrough before May 12. If there's not, I absolutely believe that he'll leave the agreement," Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNBC on Thursday.

Essner said concerns about trade wars under Trump could offset geopolitical tension in the oil market, but crude prices are more likely to rise than fall ahead of the Iran decision.

Traders are also monitoring a deteriorating situation in OPEC-member Venezuela, where production has steadily fallen amid the country's long-running economic crisis.

Commodities tomorrow: Crude crosses $68 for first time since 2014

Oil workers have been resigning in droves since a military leader took control of the nation's state oil giant, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, Reuters reported.

"It has become an absolute mess," said John Kilduff, founding partner of energy hedge fund Again Capital. "The production there could go to near zero. The majority of their refineries are shutting down."

The gap between supply and demand in the oil market has tightened as OPEC, Russia and other producers have nearly achieved their aim of shrinking global crude stockpiles to the five-year average. The two dozen producers have been limiting their output as part of a deal that began in 2017 and winds down this year.

A smaller group of producers tasked with monitoring the deal meets Friday, and OPEC gathers in June to discuss whether to adjust the agreement.

Recent reports have indicated some Saudi officials are targeting an oil price of $80 a barrel.