Oil drops on worries about demand, slowing US economy

Oil prices fell, with investors turning cautious on expectations of lower demand as US employment and business data came in weaker than forecast, signalling the economy of the world’s top oil consumer may be cooling.
Brent crude futures were down 60 cents, or 0.69 per cent, at $86.74 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 63 cents, or 0.75 per cent, to $83.25 by 0651 GMT, with activity thinned by the US Independence Day holiday.
«Geopolitics and weather remain bullish risks, but the underlying physical market strength looks set to turn softer,» Citi analysts said in a note to clients, adding that physical markets are trading post-summer September cargoes when demand could soften partly due to hurricane risks.
US crude shipments bound for Europe fell to a two-year low in June as European buyers bought cheaper regional and West African oil, though some rebound in July and August volumes could still happen.
The drop in oil prices is also partly attributable to traders taking profits after recent gains, analysts said.
Oil futures on both sides of the Atlantic are on track for a fourth straight weekly increase.
«The intraday weakness seen in oil prices in today’s Asian session seems to be some form of profit-taking activities as WTI crude managed to hold above $81.90/barrel key minor support,» OANDA senior market analyst Kelvin Wong said.
Further underscoring the lower demand expectations was data from the US that showed first-time applications for US unemployment benefits increased last week, while the number of people on jobless rolls rose further to a 2-1/2-year high towards the end of June.
The ADP Employment report showed private payrolls increased by 150,000 jobs in June, below a consensus predicting an increase of 160,000, and after rising by 157,000 in May.
Also, the ISM Non-Manufacturing index, a measure of US services sector activity, fell to a four-year low of 48.8 in June, well below the 52.5 consensus.
However, weaker economic data may add to the US Federal Reserve’s arguments to start cutting rates, analysts said, a move that would be supportive for the oil markets as lower rates could boost demand.
Softer US data has already prompted markets to lift the probability of a September rate cut to 74 per cent, from 65 per cent, while pricing in 47 basis points of easing for this year.
A «lower interest rate environment in the US may cap the strength of the dollar at least in the short term which favours the current bullish bias of WTI crude», OANDA’s Wong said.
US crude and fuel stockpiles fell by more than expected last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. -Reuters
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