Oil Prices Edge Lower With Investors Cautious Ahead of US Data

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Oil prices dipped slightly on Wednesday after sharp moves earlier in the week, with investors cautious about the U.S. economy amid supply disruptions from persistent tensions in the Red Sea.

Brent crude fell 39 cents to $75.50 a barrel by 1056 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures slipped 51 cents to $69.87 a barrel.

Prices had climbed around $2 earlier in the week following attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels. On Tuesday they fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Southern Red Sea, though no damage was reported.

A wider conflict could close crucial waterways for oil transportation and disrupt trade flows.

“Although the supply of oil has not been affected, as reflected in yesterday’s oil price sell-off, the nervousness is conspicuous,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

Both benchmarks ended Tuesday more than 1 percent down, with optimism about early and aggressive U.S. interest rate cuts also ebbing ahead of the release of Federal Reserve meeting minutes and jobs data on Wednesday.

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“The market bade farewell to 2023 with a considerable liquidation of length and persisting anxiety about the geopolitical outlook failed to draw buyers back to the fore as the new year has kicked off,” added Mr. Varga.

Israeli forces intensified their bombing of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after the war stretched into Lebanon with the killing in Beirut of Hamas’ deputy leader.

Meanwhile, expectations of ample oil supply in the first half of 2024 have kept a lid on prices ahead of OPEC+ plans to hold a meeting of its Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in early February.

The decision to hold the meeting in early February suggests OPEC+ is possibly growing uneasy over currently weak oil market conditions, despite voluntary cuts of 2.2 million barrels a day for the first quarter agreed in November, OANDA’s senior market analyst Kevin Wong said.

“WTI oil is likely to trade sideways in the short term between $68.90 and $72.30 a barrel (close to the downward-sloping 20-day moving average),” he added.

Ahead of weekly U.S. crude and product inventory reports, analysts polled by Reuters expected crude stockpiles fell last week, while distillate and gasoline stocks likely rose.

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