Oil eases as investors await Iran nuclear talks this week

Flames burn off at an oil processing facility in Saudi Aramco's oilfield in the Rub' Al-Khali desert in Shaybah, Saudi Arabia, in October 2018.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Oil prices dipped on Monday after touching two-year highs reached on expectations of improved demand and OPEC producers keeping supply curbs in place.

Prices pulled back early in the session after Chinese data showed the nation's crude oil imports fell to a year's low in May, analysts said.

"That took away some of the enthusiasm that the oil bulls had seen," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "Even though we think it's temporary, it was enough to cause profit taking."

Brent crude hit $72.27 a barrel, its highest since May 2019, but settled 40 cents lower at $71.49 per barrel.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate touched $70 for the first time since October 2018, but settled 39 cents, or 0.56%, lower at $69.23 per barrel.

Investors may have also sold some contracts when WTI hit $70, said Avtar Sandu of Phillips Futures in Singapore, using that round number as an opportunity to take profits.

Crude has risen for the past two weeks, with Brent up by 38% this year and WTI has rising 43%, helped by the beginnings of recovery from pandemic-related demand disruptions as well as supply curbs by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies.

The producer group known as OPEC+ has boosted oil prices by sticking to supply restraints through July. On Monday, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said OPEC+ expects inventories to fall further in coming months.

Analysts expect oil prices to remain buoyant, with pullbacks brief, due to increased global demand following decisions by the United States and Europe to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, while India has begun to ease its latest lockdown.

"With some improvement in the pandemic situation in India and the recovery in the U.S., China and Europe remaining on track, oil should remain a buy on dips," said Jeffrey Halley, analyst at brokerage OANDA.