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Crude oil futures rise though jitters over omicron remains

Crude oil futures were higher during mid-morning trade in Asia Dec. 2 amid a draw in US crude oil stocks last week, though jitters over the oil demand outlook remained after the US reported its first local case of the omicron variant.

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At 10:43 am Singapore time (0243 GMT), the ICE February Brent futures contract was up 31 cents/b (0.45%) from the previous close at $69.18/b, while the NYMEX January light sweet crude contract rose 34 cents/b (0.52%) at $65.91/b.

Nationwide US crude stocks fell 910,00 barrels to 433.11 million barrels in the week ended Nov. 26, the US Energy Information Administration data said Dec. 1, short of expectations for a 2.7 million-barrel decline in an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts on Nov. 29.

Nationwide gasoline stocks surged 4.03 million barrels over the same period to 215.42 million barrels, while distillate stocks moved 2.16 million barrels higher to 123.88 million barrels, the EIA said. The builds were likely prompted by higher refinery utilization together with weakened demand.

"Nothing to really get excited from the EIA report, so WTI crude should consolidate here until OPEC+ decision on output," OANDA's senior market analyst Edward Moya said.

Nonetheless, investors remained jittery to any fresh headlines about the omicron variant. Most recently, the US on Dec. 1 reported its first domestic case in California, leading to oil prices paring intra-day gains of more than 4% on the same day.

"As Omicron cases continue to surface, wild swings may persist over the coming week until we attain greater clarity on its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-resistance -- all being crucial factors in determining whether further economic restrictions will be warranted," IG market strategist Yeap Jun Rong said.

The OPEC+ group's decision on whether to pause or proceed on its planned 400,000 b/d monthly output hike, particularly in light of the new omicron variant, is expected to emerge later Dec. 2.