U.S. traded oil settled sharply lower Thursday as downbeat sentiment drove futures into negative territory, ahead of a key OPEC meeting to discuss compliance with an agreement to curtail global output. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in September finished the day off 56 cents, or 1.1%, at $49.03. Although there was no fundamental catalyst for the retreat, some market participants pointed to news that prominent oil trader Andy Hall was shuttering his energy-focused hedge fund after wrongway bets that oil prices would climb faster. Oil has been stuck in a range for the past several months. Some investors speculated that the unwind of Hall's Astenbeck Master Commodities Fund II may result in more oil contracts hitting the market, driving prices lower. Still, traders and investors said that although the oil market is sensitive to news, it has mostly been in an uptrend. A coming two-day meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Abu Dhabi on Aug. 7-9 remained the main focus for investors, and could help the determine oil's near-term future.
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