Crude Prices Battle Fundamentals vs. Perception


Crude oil futures touched multi-month lows on Monday after a weekend of mixed data from China showing higher oil imports in July but weaker trade figures overall.

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Brent <LCOc1> was up 20 cents at $48.81 a barrel at 0937 ET, after dipping to $48.24 earlier in the session, the lowest in over six months.

U.S. crude <CLc1> was down 20 cents at $43.67 after hitting an intraday low of $43.35 in Asian trading. Both benchmarks have been falling for six weeks, hampered by a supply glut.

"The market remains in a battle between the bearish current fundamentals and the perception that the market will begin to rebalance in the not too distant future," said Dominick Chirichella of the Energy Management Institute.

China's crude oil imports rose by 4.1 percent in July from June, but this bullish news was partly offset by broader trade figures showing an 8.3 percent slump in exports, stoking fears that Chinese economic activity was slowing.

Carsten Fritsch, an oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said that China had probably taken advantage of much lower oil prices to rebuild its stocks in July: "They had fallen to a one-year low in June on account of record oil processing, so a top-up was needed."

Since the start of August, however, there have been signs that Asian crude demand is slowing.

Olivier Jakob, an oil analyst at Petromatrix in Switzerland, cited the fact that the supertanker Sea King, which set off for South Korea with North Sea Forties crude in July, has since stayed in Europe.

He added that China was selling some Angolan cargoes and there had been talk of run cuts at Asian refineries.

Two OPEC delegates said the group had no plans to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the drop in oil prices before its next scheduled gathering in December.

"Up to the December 4 OPEC meeting there is no reason for OPEC to hold back production," Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB, said in a note.

The latest weekly data from ICE showed that money managers and hedge funds had cut their net holdings of Brent for a third straight week and raised their bearish bets by the largest amount in a year in the week to Aug. 4.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by William Hardy and David Evans)