By Myra P. Saefong and William Watts
Oil futures finished with a slight gain Thursday, after falling to their lowest intraday levels in more than a week before reversing course, as traders tried to assess the impact on energy demand of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Asia in particular.
“Despite the pessimism seen this week, the overall oil demand remains robust in two of the largest oil markets, the U.S. and China,” said Manish Raj, chief financial officer at Velandera Energy. Data Thursday showing new U.S. jobless claims now at pandemic lows strengthens that optimism, he said.
Also, “despite the rapidly rising cases in India, economic activity, road traffic and energy consumption remains well above the levels seen last year,” he said. “Economic activity and oil demand is not expected to decline to the levels seen last year, even though the COVID-19 cases are far greater.”
West Texas Intermediate crude for June delivery /zigman2/quotes/209723049/delayed CL00 -0.20% /zigman2/quotes/209724872/delayed CLM21 -0.20% tacked on 8 cents, or 0.1%, to settle at $61.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after tapping a low at $60.61. June Brent crude , the global benchmark, added 8 cents, or 0.1%, at $65.40 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.
Prices for both crude benchmarks on Thursday touched their lowest intraday levels since April 14, FactSet data show, but they trade more than 25% higher year to date.
“It is not enough to see the U.S. and China dealing well with the pandemic,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets at Rystad Energy, in a note Thursday. “For oil prices to build up again, it will take global signs of recovery, and such indications are now scarce in key Asian countries.”
India on Thursday saw 314,835 new COVID-19 cases, marking a record daily tally. Sharply rising case numbers in Japan are also a concern, with officials weighing a state of emergency for Osaka and Tokyo. India and Japan are among the world’s largest oil consumers and importers, said Eugen Weinberg, analyst at Commerzbank, in a note.
Meanwhile, Weinberg said the demand picture in the U.S., appears strong. While data released Wednesday showed a rise in U.S. crude inventories, gasoline demand increased to 9.1 million barrels a day — the highest since the peaking during last year’s summer driving season, Weinberg said.
Among the oil products traded on Nymex Thursday, May gasoline declined by 0.4% to about $1.98 a gallon, while May heating oil rose 0.4% to $1.86 a gallon.
Natural-gas futures ended lower after the Energy Information Administration reported Thursday that domestic supplies of natural gas rose by 38 billion cubic feet for the week ended April 16. That just about matched an average increase of 37 billion cubic feet forecast by analysts polled by S&P Global Platts.
May natural gas rose 2.1% to $2.75 per million British thermal units.