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Oil prices finish lower Tuesday as traders weigh prospects for Gaza ceasefire

Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse
Natural-gas futures settle higher for a third straight session. (Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse)

Myra P. Saefong and William Watts, MarketWatch

Energiesnet.com 04 09 2024

Crude-oil futures tallied a back-to-back session decline on Tuesday as traders weighed prospects for a ceasefire in Gaza and related risks to oil supplies in the Middle East.

Price moves

  • West Texas Intermediate crude CL00, 0.32% for May delivery CL.1, 0.32% CLK24, 0.32% fell $1.20, or 1.4%, to settle at $85.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after losing nearly 0.6% on Monday.

  • June Brent crude BRN00, 0.29% BRNM24, 0.30%, the global benchmark, declined by 96 cents, or 1.1%, to $89.42 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

  • May gasoline RBK24, -0.08% tacked on nearly 0.3% to $2.76 a gallon.

  • May heating oil HOK24, -0.12% shed 1.9% to $2.68 a gallon.

  • Natural gas for May delivery NGK24, 1.50% settled at $1.87 per million British thermal units, up 1.5%.

Market drivers

“The Middle East remains a powder keg, but in terms of oil production, it has yet to explode,” Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, told MarketWatch. “While the potential for escalation is often discussed, it’s in no one’s best interest, despite recent attacks such as the one on the Iranian consulate.” 

While optimism around cease-fire talks pressured crude in Monday’s session, futures ended above session lows after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a date for the invasion of the city of Rafah, currently filled with around 1.4 million Palestinians displaced from other parts of Gaza, had been set.

On Tuesday, however, ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas were reportedly deadlocked, said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group, and the market sold off after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. hasn’t been told the date for Israel’s Rafah operation.

There is also a report that Iran was in contact with the U.S. to try to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel, said Flynn, after Israel’s attack on Iran’s embassy in Syria earlier this month.

The threat of a more direct confrontation between Israel and Iran had added to the geopolitical risk premium on oil prices, analysts have said.

Meanwhile, a fire Sunday at an oil platform in Mexico killed one person and injured nine others, according to news reports. News reports a week ago said oil company Pemex would curtail oil exports in coming months.

The cut in exports would particularly affect the heavy and sour Maya oil grade, which is mainly required by U.S. refineries, noted Carsten Fritsch, commodity strategist at Commerzbank. Mexico is estimated to have exported 420,000 barrels a day of this type of crude to the U.S. in 2023, he said.

Because the easing of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela will also expire in the middle of the month, the supply of heavy crude could see a significant tightening, he said in a note.

Fritsch noted that Canada, which also produces heavy grades of oil, would be a possible replacement supplier. Light U.S. shale oil, on the other hand, could only partially fill the breach.

Fritsch said the price of Mars, a medium sour U.S. crude produced in the Gulf of Mexico, has already risen significantly. “If U.S. refineries have to cut back on processing, this could result in fewer oil products being available for export, which would lead to a widening of the gasoil crack spread and a higher gasoil price,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, natural-gas futures traded on Nymex settled higher for a third consecutive session.

Natural gas is “starting to rebound even as we expect to see an injection this week into [U.S.] supply, said Flynn. “More talk of falling production” is giving the market a boost.

marketwatch.com 04 09 2024

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