Oil rebounds from 13-month low, still below $50

A line of oil tankers transporting fuel to the refineries located along the Mississippi River just north of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Art Wager | Getty Images

Oil prices edged up from 13-month lows on Tuesday as the number of new coronavirus cases slowed in China, easing some concern over the potential for lengthy oil demand destruction.

The death toll surpassed 1,000 on Tuesday, though the number of new confirmed cases fell. The epidemic could peak in February and then plateau before easing, said the Chinese government's top medical adviser on the outbreak.

Brent crude gained 78 cents, or 1.4%, to trade at $54.05 per barrel. It fell to $53.11 on Monday, the lowest since January 2019. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 37 cents, or 0.75%, to settle at $49.94 per barrel.

"It is way too early to definitely state that the peak of the virus is in place, but optimism is growing," INTL FCStone said in a note. "Prices will mildly recover in the meantime, as the virus slowly eases, and OPEC members lack any actions moving forward thus far on steps to support prices," it said.

Investors remain wary that China's oil demand could take a further hit if the coronavirus cannot be contained and if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, fail to agree on further steps to support prices.

"The lack of any coordinated action by OPEC+ means that oversupply concerns are likely to retain the upper hand," said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg.

The virus is already denting demand in the world's second-largest oil consumer. Chinese state refiners plan to cut as much as 940,000 barrels per day (bpd) - almost 1% of world demand - from their crude processing rates in February.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration cut its global oil demand growth forecast for this year by 310,000 barrels per day (bpd) after the coronavirus outbreak.

Oil also got a boost from a rally in world equities, which resumed their climb toward record highs on Tuesday on hopes the virus is peaking.

OPEC and allies including Russia are restraining output by 1.7 million bpd in 2020 to support the market and have been considering further curbs.

An OPEC+ advisory panel proposed an additional cut of 600,000 bpd last week, but Russia has delayed delivering its official stance, frustrating some OPEC members.

In a development that could add to downward pressure on prices, U.S. crude inventories are expected to rise for a third straight week, by 2.9 million barrels in the week ended on Feb. 7, a Reuters poll showed. <EIA/S>

U.S. supply reports are due later on Tuesday and on Wednesday.