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Crude oil futures lower as global trade risks increase

Singapore — Crude oil futures fell more than 50 cents/b in mid-morning trade in Asia Friday as risk-off sentiment heightened on US trade policy and its stance on Iran sanctions.

At 10:30 am Singapore time (0230 GMT), ICE Brent July futures were down 66 cents/b from Thursday's settle at $66.21/b while the NYMEX July light sweet crude futures contract was 54 cents/b lower at $56.05/b.

Oil markets were likely to remain jittery until more clarity emerges over the US' stance on Iran, China and other countries it has testy relations with, analysts said.

A senior US State Department official was quoted by the Wall Street Journal late Thursday as saying that buyers of Iranian crude that had not hit their limits could continue to import crude until those caps were reached.

The report was initially perceived as a softening of US' hardline stance on ending all Iranian crude exports by May 2, traders in Singapore said.

However the US State Department later clarified that it still aims to target all imports of Iranian oil purchased after sanctions waivers expired this month. "Our firm policy is to completely zero out purchases of Iranian oil. Period," Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said in a statement.

Hook said countries could complete any imports of oil "purchased, loaded and en route to its destination" before their significant reduction exceptions expired May 2. But any purchases initiated after the waivers expired "will be subject to US sanctions, even if a country had not met its previously negotiated purchase caps during the SRE period from November to May 2," he added.

US President Donald Trump also announced Thursday a 5% tariff on all goods imported from neighboring Mexico, with the option to increase that level gradually.

The US is already embroiled in a trade dispute with China that has resulted in US crude exports to China being reduced to a trickle and amplified the volume of US crude floating in global seas, traders said Friday.

Analysts said the trade disputes and Iran sanctions update provided a risk-off view on markets and that sentiment would remain until further notice.

"Early expectations for the temporary relief on Wall Street to spread to Asia markets into Friday has once again been derailed with more confrontational trade policies out of the US to throw markets into risk-off mode again," IG Market Analyst Jingyi Pan said in a note Friday.

At 0230 GMT, the US Dollar Index was down 0.03% to 98.11.

--Eesha Muneeb, eesha.muneeb@spglobal.com

--Edited by Wendy Wells, wendy.wells@spglobal.com