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Crude oil futures stable in Asia trade amid mixed drivers

Singapore — 0133 GMT: Crude oil futures were stable in mid-morning trade in Asia Friday, as investors remained cautious against a backdrop of mixed drivers.

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At 9:33 am Singapore time (0133 GMT), April ICE Brent crude futures dipped 7 cents/b (0.12%) from Thursday's settle to $56.27/b, while the NYMEX March light sweet crude contract was stable at $51.42/b.

A few analysts said the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak has already been priced in, while others said it depends on whether the situation worsens for the longer term.

"The crude oil price was under pressure early in the session after China reported a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19," ANZ analysts said Friday. "However, the selling reversed after the World Health Organization said the spike didn't necessarily reflect a sudden surge in the epidemic. The moves suggest the market is more comfortable that we are past the worst of the outbreak," the ANZ analysts added.

Chinese health officials in Hubei province reported a surge in cases after broadening their definition for confirmed cases, according to media reports.

"But keeping the lid on prices, OPEC had hoped to announce additional production cuts of 600,000 b/d. Still, with Russia's refusal to participate, no action is anticipated before OPEC's next meeting in March," said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp.

"And of course, the stream of gloomy revised demand outlook by key market monitoring agencies does little to help the oil markets bullish cause," Innes added.

The International Energy Agency on Thursday said demand will contract for the first time in a decade during the first quarter because of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on China's economy. The coronavirus is expected to reduce world oil demand by 1.1 million b/d in Q1 and by 345,000 b/d in Q2, the IEA said, slashing its oil demand forecast for 2020 by almost 500,000 b/d.

Overall 2020 oil demand is now forecast at 100.97 million b/d, 480,000 b/d below the IEA's previous estimate.

"While we think long liquidation may have peaked, it is unlikely we might see a V-shape recovery in oil prices in the near term, with $60/b to provide a key resistance for Brent," OCBC analysts said.