New York — Oil futures settled slightly lower Oct. 15 as the market weighed pandemic-weakened demand outlooks against tightened US crude supply and renewed hopes for a US coronavirus stimulus bill.
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NYMEX November WTI settled 8 cents lower at $40.96/b and ICE December Brent was down 16 cents at $43.16/b.
Energy prices began climbing off morning lows after US Energy Information Administration data showed US commercial crude stocks declined 3.82 million barrels in the week ended Oct. 9 to 489.11 million barrels. The draw put inventories at the lowest since late March and narrowed the supply overhang to just 10% above the five-year average, the weakest since mid-May.
The rally accelerated in early afternoon trading after US President Donald Trump said he would consider again raising his offer to Congressional Democrats in an effort to pass a second round coronavirus relief package ahead of the November elections.
NYMEX November RBOB settled 1.71 cents lower at $1.18/gal and November ULSD was down 38 points at $1.1887/gal.
Trump on Oct. 6 abruptly ended talks on the stimulus package only to later return to negotiations, increasing his offer to $1.8 trillion. The comments on Oct. 15 indicate the White House is willing to commit to a higher level of spending. Congressional Democrats are seeking $2.2 trillion in relief funding.
Trumps comments also appeared to contradict those of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who on Oct. 14 said that election-season politics were slowing progress on coronavirus stimulus bill negotiations and that passage before the election would be "difficult."
But market optimism was tempered by weakened demand outlooks fueled by resurgent coronavirus cases in the US and Europe.
US unemployment claims climbed to a seven-week high 898,000 in the week ended Oct. 10, up 53,000 from the week prior, US Department of Labor data showed Oct. 15. The rise in unemployment claims comes as states tighten social restrictions amid a surge in new coronavirus infections.
The front-month ICE New York Harbor RBOB crack versus Brent fell to $5.77/b in afternoon trading, on pace for the lowest close since Sept. 11.
The seven-day moving average of new coronavirus infections rose to 52,155 Oct. 14, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a fresh nine-week high.
"Crude prices don't stand a chance of rising as COVID-19 intensity in Europe and the US accelerates," OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya said in a note. "The coronavirus surge is forcing Europe to reinstate pandemic restrictions to curb the virus spread and that is driving the dollar higher and crippling short-term crude demand forecasts."
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a curfew from 2100 to 0600 local time for nine French cities, including Paris, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus. Due to come into effect Oct. 17, the measure will last at least four weeks, the president said.