Oil falls slightly on concerns over US-China talks, weak demand signals

Azeri oil workers operate a large field of drilling rigs on October 12, 2003 outside the capital city of Baku, Azerbaijan.
Oleg Nikishin | Getty Images

Oil prices fell slightly on Tuesday as Washington's blacklisting of more Chinese companies dampened hopes for a trade deal between the two countries, although unrest in Iraq and Ecuador lent some support to crude prices.

Both Brent crude and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude had risen by more than 1% earlier in the day. Brent was down 45 cents, or 0.8%, at $57.90 a barrel and WTI was down 12 cents, or 0.2%, at $52.63.

Investors are treading cautiously before U.S.-China trade talks in Washington on Thursday. Prospects for progress dimmed after U.S. President Donald Trump said a quick trade deal was unlikely.

Washington is also moving ahead with discussions over possible restrictions on capital flows into China, with a focus on investments by U.S. government pension funds, Bloomberg reported.

"The (energy) complex will be forced to focus more succinctly on global oil demand deterioration as it negotiates through the monthly series of Agency reports the rest of this week," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. "We are not ruling out a quick upward price reversal."

Oil prices were also pressured by weak economic data after U.S. producer prices fell unexpectedly in September, weighed down by lower costs of goods and services, which could give the Federal Reserve room to cut interest rates again this month.

U.S. stocks tumbled on Tuesday and the pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> snapped a two-day winning streak to lose 1%.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday cut its 2020 world oil demand growth forecast by 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.30 million.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday warned of a risk of complacency among countries. Without action to resolve trade conflicts and support growth, global economic deceleration could turn into "a more massive slowdown," she said.

"The market's focus remains on trade tensions and oil demand concerns, ignoring the elevated geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and lower OPEC production in September," said UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo. "Growing recession risks have capped the upside of oil prices."

Crude inventories in the United States are expected to have grown for a fourth week while distillates and gasoline stocks are likely to have fallen, a Reuters poll showed on Monday. 1/8nL3N26T3EH 3/8

The EIA also said U.S. crude production is expected to rise by 1.27 million bpd in 2019 to a record 12.26 million bpd, slightly above its previous forecast for a rise of 1.25 million.

However, protests in OPEC members Iraq and Ecuador threatened to disrupt their oil output and supported prices.

In Iraq, protests resumed overnight in Baghdad's Sadr City district, though much of the country appeared quieter than it has been for a week.

"Unrest in Iraq gained a high profile at the start of October as a result of large protests in Baghdad," RBC analyst Al Stanton said.

He said potential attacks by Turkey on Kurdish forces in northeast Syria could take place close to the Iraqi border, leading to "a refugee crisis that puts pressures on Kurdistans economy" and its oil production.

Turkey said it had completed preparations for a military operation in northeast Syria after the United States began pulling back troops.

Ecuador's energy ministry said protests against austerity could reduce its oil output by 59,450 bpd.

Saudi Arabia reiterated on Tuesday that it was ready to meet global oil needs. Installations belonging to Saudi Aramco were attacked on Sept. 14, hitting output and triggering a spike in oil prices.