Oil prices slid about 2% to a two-week low on Wednesday despite a sharp decline in U.S. crude inventories, as the dollar strengthened on fears that looming Federal Reserve interest rate hikes could curb energy demand in the world's top consumer.
A stronger U.S. dollar can hurt global demand for oil by making it more expensive in other countries. Investors were also discouraged by still high inflation in Europe and uneven economic data in China, the world's biggest crude importer.
Brent futures for June delivery fell $1.65, or 2.0%, to settle at $83.12 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) for May delivery fell $1.70, or 2.1%, to settle at $79.16, while the June WTI contract, which becomes the U.S. front-month at the end of trading on Thursday, also lost 2.1% to settle at $79.24.
Those were the lowest closes for both benchmarks since March 31, erasing most of the price gains since the surprise oil output cut announced on April 2 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other allies in the OPEC+ group.
"The crude benchmarks are posting ... lows ... in response to a strengthening in the U.S. dollar that is, in turn, weighing on risky assets following some hot inflation data out of Europe," analysts at energy consulting firm Ritterbusch and Associates told customers in a note.
"We still believe that the market has been too focused on the supply side of the global oil equation following the OPEC output cuts and that world oil demand is significantly weaker than widely perceived," the note said.
U.S. crude stockpiles fell by a bigger-than-expected 4.6 million barrels last week as refinery runs and exports rose, while gasoline inventories jumped unexpectedly on disappointing demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
That was far more than analyst forecasts for a 1.1 million-barrel crude decline, and the American Petroleum Institute's estimates late Tuesday of a 2.7 million-barrel draw.
In China, stock markets closed lower due to uneven first-quarter data indicating a bumpy economic recovery after the country dropped its strict zero-COVID-19 policy.
Stock market indexes around the world also slipped after back-to-back gains as investors digested the latest earnings reports, while British inflation data hardened expectations of further interest rate rises by the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks.
The Fed is likely to have one more interest rate rise in store, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Tuesday.
U.S. economic activity was little changed in recent weeks as employment growth moderated somewhat and price increases appeared to slow, according to a Fed report.
European Central Bank officials meanwhile remained wary of inflation and have suggested further rate hikes also.
Adding more pressure on oil benchmarks, Asian refiners have continued to snap up Russian crude in April. India and China have bought the vast majority of Russian oil so far in April at prices above the Western price cap of $60 a barrel, according to traders and Reuters calculations.
Oil loadings from Russia's western ports in April will rise to the highest since 2019, above 2.4 million barrels per day, despite Moscow's pledge to cut output, trading and shipping sources said.
In the U.S., meanwhile, heating oil futures closed at their lowest since January 2022 for a second day in a row on low diesel demand.
That cut the heating oil crack spread - a measure of refining profit margins - to its lowest close since February 2022.