Drones, sanctions, contamination: supply surprises leave oil unfazed

By Ahmad Ghaddar and Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – They should have started a bull run, but supply shocks that have rocked the oil industry this year have failed to deliver a sustained rise in crude prices.

Drone attacks crippled Saudi Aramco’s oil plants, U.S. oil sanctions knocked out exports from Iran and Venezuela, and massive contamination tainted Russian oil flows.

Yet, instead of sky-high prices, the market has been kept in check by a flood of oil from the U.S. fracking boom and worries about a global recession weighing on the demand outlook.

And there is unlikely to be a spike anytime soon, analysts and data indicate because high-tech industry understands better than ever just how replete their market is with oil.

“Between fears of peak oil demand, unlimited shale growth, a looming global recession and the possibility that millions of barrels of OPEC barrels (sanctioned or otherwise) could return to the market fairly quickly, there is no faith in the future,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspect.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which includes Iran, Venezuela and its de facto leader Saudi Arabia, has continued to rein in supply this year but the group’s efforts have not delivered the hoped-for price surge.

Oil futures markets indicate that supply outages have not dealt a boost to prices as investors see the unexpected shocks to oil output will not massively dent overall supply.

SAUDI BOUNCE-BACK

The Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco sites knocked out around 5.7 million bpd of capacity from the world’s biggest oil exporter, nearly 6% of global oil supplies.

Despite the unprecedented damage, Saudi Arabia has swiftly restored its production capacity to 11.3 million barrels per day, just shy of its regular output, sources briefed on Aramco’s operations told Reuters.

Brent oil prices surged 15% in the wake of the attacks but have since lost most of their gains and are trading at around $62 a barrel.

 

While U.S. oil output continues to surge along with the productivity of existing wells, the increasingly sparse number of operating wells could eventually drag on output and provide a boost to prices.

“We think the outlook for U.S. supply growth is far too optimistic,” Mark Hume, portfolio manager at investment giant BlackRock’s Energy and Resources Income Trust.

“There’s a real chance of U.S. growth going to the downside and I think balances will be tighter than one might anticipate right now,” he added.

DATA TRANSPARENCY

Another aspect that has softened the impact of supply shocks on oil prices is the wide availability of data which gives investors a much clearer view on the operations of the market.

BP chief executive Bob Dudley said this week that the reaction to the Saudi attacks was “sensible”.

“It says something about the market – there’s instantaneous data on storage levels which didn’t exist in the past,” he said.

Technology firms increasingly offer real-time data pinpointing storage levels in oil tanks, detecting if a refinery unit is operating using heat cameras and tracking ships.

“The data availability is a bit of a game-changer,” said Norbert Ruecker, head of economics at Swiss bank Julius Baer. “This speeds up what financial markets are all about.”

(Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar and Noah Browning; Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Ron Bousso in London and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Trump says he does not want war after attack on Saudi oil facilities

By Steve Holland and Rania El Gamal

WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday it looked like Iran was behind attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia but stressed he did not want to go to war, as the attacks sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.

Iran has rejected U.S. charges it was behind the strikes on Saturday that damaged the world’s biggest crude-processing plant and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.

Relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic programs. Washington also wants to pressure Tehran to end its support of regional proxy forces, including in Yemen where Saudi forces have been fighting Iran-backed Houthis for four years.

The United States was still investigating if Iran was behind the Saudi strikes, Trump said, but “it’s certainly looking that way at this moment”.

Trump, who has spent much of his presidency trying to disentangle the United States from wars he inherited, made clear, however, he was not going to rush into a new conflict on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

“I’m somebody that would like not to have war,” Trump said.

Several U.S. Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, have blamed Tehran for the strikes. Pompeo and others will travel to Saudi Arabia soon, Trump said.

A day after saying the United States was “locked and loaded” to respond to the incident, Trump said on Monday there was “no rush” to do so.

“We have a lot of options but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this,” he said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the strikes were carried out by “Yemeni people” retaliating for attacks by a Saudi-led military coalition in a war with the Houthi movement.

“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” Rouhani told reporters during a visit to Ankara.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the allegations “unacceptable and entirely baseless.”

The attacks cut 5% of world crude oil production.

Oil prices surged by as much as 19% after the incidents, the biggest intraday jump since the 1990-91 Gulf crisis over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Prices retreated from their peak after Trump said he would release U.S. emergency supplies and producers said there were enough stocks globally to make up for the shortfall.

Japan said it will consider coordinated release of its oil reserves and other measures if needed to ensure sufficient supplies in the wake of the attacks.

Crude prices were down around 1% in Asian trade on Tuesday.

“The question is how long it takes for the supply to get back online,” said Esty Dwek, head of global market strategy at Natixis Investment Managers.

“However, the (geopolitical) risk premium … which has been basically ignored by markets in favor of growth worries in recent months, is likely to be priced in going forward,” she said.

SAUDI SUSPICIONS

Saudi Arabia said the attacks were carried out with Iranian weapons and urged U.N. experts to help investigate the raid.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iranian threats were not only directed against the kingdom but against the Middle East and the world.

While the prince did not directly accuse Tehran, a Foreign Ministry statement reported him as calling on the international community to condemn whoever was behind the strike.

“The kingdom is capable of defending its land and people and responding forcefully to those attacks,” the statement added.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been enemies for decades and are fighting a number of proxy wars.

Trump said he had not made commitments to protect the Saudis.

“No, I haven’t promised Saudis that. We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out,” he said. “That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us. But we would certainly help them.”

Two sources briefed on state oil company Saudi Aramco’s operations told Reuters it might take months for Saudi oil production to return to normal. Earlier estimates had suggested it could take weeks.

Saudi Arabia said it would be able to meet oil customers’ demand from its ample storage, although some deliveries had been disrupted. At least 11 supertankers were waiting to load oil cargoes from Saudi ports, ship tracking data showed on Monday.

RISING TENSIONS

Tension in the oil-producing Gulf region has dramatically escalated this year after Trump imposed severe U.S. sanctions on Iran aimed at halting its oil exports altogether.

For months, Iranian officials have issued veiled threats, saying that if Tehran is blocked from exporting oil, other countries will not be able to do so either. But Iran has denied a role in specific attacks, including bombings of tankers in the Gulf and previous strikes claimed by the Houthis.

Trump has said the goal from his “maximum pressure” approach is to force Iran to negotiate a tougher agreement and has left open the possibility of talks with Rouhani at an upcoming U.N. meeting. Iran says there can be no talks until Washington lifts sanctions.

U.N. Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Monday it was “not entirely clear” who was behind the strike but he said it had increased the chances of a regional conflict.

But the U.S. ambassador to the world body, Kelly Craft, said emerging information on the attacks “indicates that responsibility lies with Iran” and there is no evidence it came from Yemen.

Iran’s Yemeni allies have promised more strikes to come. Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group carried out Saturday’s predawn attack with drones, including some powered by jet engines.

“We assure the Saudi regime that our long arm can reach any place we choose and at the time of our choosing,” Sarea tweeted. “We warn companies and foreigners against being near the plants that we struck because they are still in our sights.”

U.S. officials say they believe the attacks came from the opposite direction, possibly from Iran itself rather than Yemen, and may have involved cruise missiles. Wherever the attacks were launched, however, they believe Iran is to blame.

The attacks have raised questions about how Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top spenders on weaponry, much of it supplied by U.S. companies, was unable to protect oil plants from attack.

Sensing a commercial opening, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to help Saudi Arabia by providing Russian-made air defense systems to protect Saudi infrastructure.

Russia and China said it was wrong to jump to conclusions about who was to blame for the attack on Saudi Arabia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by William Maclean, Mike Collett-White and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell, Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Explainer: How the Saudi attack affects global oil supply

A worker fills up a car at a gas station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

LONDON (Reuters) – The strike on the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, including damage to the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility, has driven oil prices to their highest level in nearly four months.

Here are some facts about the impact on oil supply and spare capacity:

WHY IS IT SO DISRUPTIVE FOR GLOBAL OIL SUPPLIES?

The attack on Saudi oil facilities on Saturday not only knocked out over half of the country’s production, it also removed almost all the spare capacity available to compensate for any major disruption in oil supplies worldwide.

The attack cut 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of Saudi crude output, over 5 percent of the world’s supply. But the attack also constrained Saudi Arabia’s ability to use the more than 2 million bpd of spare oil production capacity it held for emergencies.

The kingdom has for years been the only major oil-producing country that has kept significant spare capacity that it could start up quickly to compensate for any deficiency in supply caused by war or natural disaster.

Most other countries cannot afford to drill expensive wells and install infrastructure, then maintain it idle.

Before the attack, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) global supply cushion was just over 3.21 million barrels per day (bpd), according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Saudi Arabia – the de facto leader of OPEC – had 2.27 million bpd of that capacity. That leaves around 940,000 bpd of spare capacity, mostly held by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Iraq and Angola also have some spare capacity. They may now bring that production online to help plug some of the gap left by Saudi Arabia – but it won’t be enough.

HAVEN’T OPEC AND ITS ALLIES BEEN CUTTING OUTPUT? CAN’T THEY JUST REVERSE THOSE CUTS?

Yes, OPEC and its allies such as Russia have cut output to prevent prices from weakening because the market has been oversupplied.

Those cuts aimed to reduce supply by 1.2 million bpd. But much of that was from Saudi Arabia so it now cannot be reversed quickly.

Non-OPEC members such as Russia are pumping near capacity, with perhaps only 100,000-150,000 bpd of available additional production.

WHAT ABOUT IRAN?

Iran holds spare capacity but it cannot get the oil to market because of sanctions imposed by the government of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Iran’s exports have fallen over 2 million bpd since April.

Washington has said Iran was behind Saturday’s attack, so is unlikely to ease sanctions to allow Iran to plug a gap it believes was created by Tehran.

Iran, for its part, said after the attack that it would pump at full volume if sanctions were eased.

AND VENEZUELA?

U.S. sanctions have also impacted the Venezuelan oil industry. But Venezuelan output has been in free fall for years and state oil company PDVSA is unlikely to be able to boost production much even if sanctions were eased.

WHAT ABOUT U.S. SHALE? CAN SHALE PRODUCERS PUMP MORE?

The United States has become the world’s top crude producer after years of rapid growth in supply from the shale sector, much of it pumped from fields in Texas. The U.S. has also grown as an exporter and shipped more crude to international markets in June than Saudi Arabia.

Shale producers can move quickly to pump more when prices rise and can bring production online in a matter of months. That is a much faster timeline than most traditional oil production.

If the Saudi outage looks like it will be prolonged and oil prices rally significantly, then shale producers will raise output.

But even if shale producers pump more, there are constraints on how much the United States can export because oil ports are already near capacity.

(Graphic: U.S. Oil Production png, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/OIL-PRODUCTION-US/0H001PBVH68N/eikon.png)

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW? WHAT ABOUT OIL IN STORAGE?

It all depends on how long the outage lasts.

Saudi Arabia, the United States and China all have hundreds of millions of barrels of oil in strategic storage. That is the storage that governments keep for exactly this scenario – to compensate for unexpected outages in supply.

They can release oil from strategic storage to meet demand and temper the impact on prices. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he had authorized a release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The IEA, which coordinates energy policies of industrialized nations, advises all its members to keep the equivalent of 90 days of net oil imports in storage.

Oil from storage should keep the market supplied for some time, but oil markets will likely become increasingly volatile as storage is run down and the possibility of a supply crunch rises.

The IEA said on Saturday the markets were still well supplied despite the Saudi disruptions.

“We are massively oversupplied,” said Christyan Malek, head of oil and gas research for Europe, Middle East and Africa at J.P. Morgan, adding it would take five months of a 5 million-bpd outage to take global crude supply levels back to a 40-year normal average.

“Having said that, this attack introduces a new, irreversible risk premium into the market,” he added.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS ANOTHER SUPPLY DISRUPTION?

With no spare capacity, future disruptions would cause oil prices to rise. A higher price over time will encourage producers to invest and pump more, while at the same time reducing consumption.

OPEC member Libya is in the middle of a civil war, which threatens its ability to continue pumping oil. Another big Libyan disruption would add to the shocks and highlight the lack of spare capacity.

Nigerian exports have also suffered from disruptions.

Even before the Saudi attack, spare capacity was falling. Consultancy Energy Aspects has said it expects OPEC spare capacity to fall to below 1 million bpd in the fourth quarter from two million bpd in the second quarter of 2019.

(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Ron Bousso and Alex Lawler; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Simon Webb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Biggest oil price surge since 1991 as ‘locked and loaded’ U.S. points finger at Iran for attack

By Rania El Gamal and Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – An attack on Saudi Arabia that shut 5% of global crude output triggered the biggest surge in oil prices since 1991, after U.S. officials blamed Iran and President Donald Trump said Washington was “locked and loaded” to retaliate.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls Yemen’s capital claimed responsibility for the attack, which damaged the world’s biggest crude oil processing plant. Iran denied blame and said it was ready for “full-fledged war”.

Two sources briefed on state oil company Saudi Aramco’s operations told Reuters it might take months for Saudi oil production to return to normal. Earlier estimates had suggested it could take weeks.

Oil prices surged by as much as 19% before coming off peaks. The intraday jump was the biggest since the 1991 Gulf War. [O/R]

Prices eased after Trump announced that he would release U.S. emergency supplies and producers said there were enough stocks stored up worldwide to make up for the shortfall. But traders still spoke of a long-term price increase as markets absorb the proof that global supply can be so sharply hit.

“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry pinned the blame squarely on Iran for “an attack on the global economy and the global energy market”.

“The United States wholeheartedly condemns Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia and we call on other nations to do the same,” he said in a speech to an annual meeting in Vienna of the U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA. He added that he was confident the oil market “is resilient and will respond positively”.

While Iran has denied blame for the attacks, its Yemeni allies have promised more strikes to come. Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group carried out Saturday’s pre-dawn attack with drones, including some powered by jet engines.

“We assure the Saudi regime that our long arm can reach any place we choose and at the time of our choosing,” Sarea tweeted. “We warn companies and foreigners against being near the plants that we struck because they are still in our sights and could be hit at any moment.”

U.S. officials say they believe that the attacks came from the opposite direction, possibly from Iran itself rather than Yemen, and may have involved cruise missiles. Wherever the attacks were launched, however, they believe Iran is to blame.

“There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate,” a U.S. official said on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been enemies for decades and are fighting a number of proxy wars, including in Yemen where Saudi forces have been fighting against the Houthis for four years.

Tension in the oil-producing Gulf region has dramatically escalated this year after Trump imposed severe U.S. sanctions on Iran aimed at halting its oil exports altogether.

THREATS

For months Iranian officials have issued veiled threats, saying that if Tehran is blocked from exporting oil, other countries will not be able to do so either. However, Iran has denied a role in specific attacks, including bombings of tankers in the Gulf and previous strikes claimed by the Houthis.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the U.S. accusations of Iranian involvement in Saturday’s attacks “unacceptable and entirely baseless”.

Iran said on Monday it had seized a vessel accused of smuggling diesel fuel to the United Arab Emirates. Tehran has long fought against smuggling of its subsidized fuel.

Russia and China said it was wrong to jump to conclusions about who was to blame for the attack on Saudi Arabia.

“Proposals on tough retaliatory actions, which appear to have been discussed in Washington, are even more unacceptable,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Britain – Washington’s close ally but wary of its hardline Iran policy – stopped short of ascribing blame but described the assault as a “wanton violation of international law”.

Washington has imposed its “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran since last year when Trump pulled out of an international deal that gave Tehran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

U.S. allies in Europe oppose Trump’s strategy, arguing that it provides no clear mechanism to defuse tensions, creating a risk that the foes could stumble into war.

Trump has said his goal is to force Iran to negotiate a tougher agreement and has left open the possibility of talks with President Hassan Rouhani at an upcoming U.N. meeting. Iran says there can be no talks until Washington lifts sanctions. Its foreign ministry said on Monday Rouhani would not meet Trump.

Officials in big energy-exporting countries were eager to assert that global markets could cope with the Saudi outage.

“We have spare capacity. There are volumes we can deal with as an instant reaction,” the energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail al-Mazrouei, told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters there was enough oil in commercial stockpiles to cover the shortfall.

The giant Saudi plant that was struck cleans crude oil of impurities, a necessary step before it can be exported and fed into refineries. The attack cut Saudi output by 5.7 million barrels a day, or around half.

Saudi Arabia is not only the world’s biggest oil exporter, it has a unique role in the market as the only country with enough spare capacity to increase or decrease its output by millions of barrels per day, keeping the market stable.

Big countries such as the United States and China have reserves designed to handle even a major outage over the short term. But a long outage would make markets subject to swings that could potentially destabilize the global economy.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Rania El Gamal, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Asma El Sharif, Saed Azhar Hadeel Al Sayegh and Dubai bureau, Karin Strohecker and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, Michael Martina in Beijing, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. blames Iran for Saudi oil attack, Trump says ‘locked and loaded’

A satellite image shows an apparent drone strike on an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia September 14, 2019. Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS

By Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday the United States was “locked and loaded” for a potential response to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, after a senior U.S. administration official said Iran was to blame.

Trump also authorized the use of the U.S. emergency oil stockpile to ensure stable supplies after the attack, which shut 5% of world production and sent crude prices soaring more than 19% in early trade on Monday, before moderating to show a 10% gain.

“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump said on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, a senior U.S. official told reporters that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility, indicated Iran was behind it, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said there was no evidence the attack came from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for over four years in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim rival Iran.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the U.S. allegations that it was responsible was “pointless”. A senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned the Islamic Republic was ready for “full-fledged” war.

“All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Commander Amirali Hajizadeh as saying.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran were already running high because of a long-running dispute between the two nations over Iran’s nuclear program that led the United States to impose sweeping sanctions.

Oil prices surged as much as 19% in early Asian trade on Monday on worries over global supply and soaring tensions in the Middle East.

Brent crude posted its biggest intra-day percentage gain since the start of the Gulf War in 1991.

State oil giant Saudi Aramco said the attack on Saturday had cut output by 5.7 million barrels per day.

The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities and evidence showed the launch area was west-northwest of the targets – not south from Yemen.

The official added that Saudi officials indicated they had seen signs that cruise missiles were used in the attack, which is inconsistent with the Iran-aligned Houthi group’s claim that it conducted the attack with 10 drones.

“There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate,” the official told reporters.

Riyadh has accused Iran of being behind previous attacks on oil-pumping stations and the Shaybah oil field, charges that Tehran denies, but has not blamed anyone for Saturday’s strike. Riyadh also says Tehran arms the Houthis, a charge both deny.

Richard Nephew, a program director at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said if Iran was responsible for the attack, it may be as retribution for U.S. sanctions.

“They are making decisions about whether and how to respond to what they see as a massive attack on their interests from the U.S. via sanctions by attacking U.S. interests in turn, and those of U.S. partners they believe are responsible for U.S. policy,” he said.

Aramco gave no timeline for output resumption. A source close to the matter told Reuters the return to full oil capacity could take “weeks, not days”.

Riyadh said it would compensate for the damage at its facilities by drawing on its stocks, which stood at 188 million barrels in June, according to official data.

Trump said he had “authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined amount sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

CALLS FOR RESTRAINT

Consultancy Rapidan Energy Group said images of the Abqaiq facility after the attack showed about five of its stabilization towers appeared to have been destroyed, and would take months to rebuild – something that could curtail output for a prolonged period.

“However Saudi Aramco keeps some redundancy in the system to maintain production during maintenance,” Rapidan added, meaning operations could return to pre-attack levels sooner.

The Saudi bourse closed down 1.1% on Sunday, with banking and petrochemical shares taking the biggest hit. Saudi petrochemical firms announced a significant reduction in feedstock supplies.

“Abqaiq is the nerve center of the Saudi energy system. Even if exports resume in the next 24 to 48 hours, the image of invulnerability has been altered,” Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told Reuters.

Some Iraqi media outlets said the attack came from there. Baghdad denied that on Sunday and vowed to punish anyone using Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups wield increasing power, as a launchpad for attacks.

Kuwait, which borders Iraq, said it was investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Saturday’s attacks and called on all parties to exercise restraint and prevent any escalation. The European Union warned the strikes posed a real threat to regional security, and several nations urged restraint.

The attack came after Trump said a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was possible at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this month. Tehran ruled out talks until sanctions are lifted.

But Trump appeared on Sunday to play down the chances he might be willing to meet with Iranian officials, saying reports he would do so without conditions were not accurate.

As recently as last Tuesday, Pompeo said Trump “is prepared to meet with no preconditions”.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Trump that Riyadh was ready to deal with “terrorist aggression”. A Saudi-led coalition has responded to past Houthi attacks with airstrikes on the group’s military sites in Yemen.

The conflict has been in military stalemate for years. The Saudi alliance has air supremacy but has come under scrutiny over civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis that has left millions facing starvation.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Parisa Hafezi, Saeed Azhar and Hadeel Al Sayegh in Dubai, David Shepardson and Timothy Gardner in Washington, William James in London, John Irish in Paris, Alex Lawler, Julia Payne and Ron Bousso in London, Robin Emmott in Brussels and Devika Krishna Kumar and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by William Maclean, Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Oil falls 3% as trade war concerns hit demand outlook

FILE PHOTO: An oil pump is seen at sunset outside Scheibenhard, near Strasbourg, France, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

By Collin Eaton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Oil prices tumbled more than 4% on Wednesday to a seven-month low, extending recent heavy losses following a surprise build in U.S. crude stockpiles and fears that demand will shrink due to Washington’s escalating trade war with Beijing.

Brent crude futures <LCOc1> were down $2.52, or 4.3%, at $56.42 a barrel by 11:57 a.m. CDT (1657 GMT), setting a seven-month low. Prices have lost more than 20% since their 2019 peak in April.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures <CLc1> were down $2.36, or 4.4%, at $51.25.

Oil fell early on worries about the trade war, then extended losses after U.S. government data showed a build of 2.4 million barrels in U.S. stockpiles instead of the 2.8 million draw analysts had expected. U.S. crude oil inventories are about 2% above the five-year average for this time of year.

Gasoline inventories rose 4.4 million barrels, with U.S. Gulf Coast gasoline stocks hitting the highest on record for this time of year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed.

After seven weeks of consecutive crude drawdowns, “there was a thought that today’s report would turn oil’s fortunes around,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “That support got taken out of the market.”

Brent has plunged more than 12% since last week as global equity markets went into a tailspin after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would slap a 10% tariff on a further $300 billion in Chinese imports from Sept. 1.

“The market continues to trade lower on concerns about demand growth and the idea that economic growth can be impacted by the trade war,” said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford Connecticut.

“The market isn’t concerned about anything other than how demand is going to play out through the rest of the year,” he said.

This week, the EIA reduced its forecast U.S. demand for crude and liquid fuels. The agency also cut its forecast for global crude and liquids consumption by 0.1% for both 2019 and 2020.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude production was set to rise 1.28 million bpd to 12.27 million bpd this year.

“People saw those numbers and it put a negative vibe in the market,” said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.

U.S. crude could fall to around the low-$40 a barrel range unless bearish sentiment changes, but U.S. oil production is still surging and the stock market is signaling rising fears of an economic downturn, said Josh Graves, senior market strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago.

“We could keep following the trend lower,” Graves said. “Crude oil inventories were disappointing and the stock market is in worrisome territory.”

Trump on Tuesday dismissed fears that the trade row with China could be drawn out further. Still, U.S. stock indexes tumbled more.

Demand for safe-haven assets such as government debt underscored lingering anxiety over recession risks.

Tensions in the Middle East remained high after Iran seized a number of tankers in recent weeks in the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint for oil shipments.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday expressed mutual concern over threats targeting freedom of maritime traffic in the Gulf.

(Additional reporting by Ron Busson, Jane Chung; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

Oil steadies as U.S. supply concerns ease but Iran tensions loom

FILE PHOTO: Oil pumps are seen after sunset outside Vaudoy-en-Brie, near Paris, France November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices steadied on Tuesday as a resumption of production in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Barry and a boom in U.S. supply from shale oil countered tensions in the Middle East.

Uncertainty about China’s economic prospects also pressured prices after data on Monday showed that growth in the country slowed to 6.2% from a year earlier, the weakest pace in at least 27 years.

Brent crude futures &lt;LCOc1&gt; were up 9 cents at $66.57 a barrel by 1333 GMT. The international benchmark hit a session high of $66.84 earlier in the day.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures &lt;CLc1&gt; rose by 13 cents to $59.71 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark hit a session high of $60.02 earlier.

U.S. oil companies on Monday began restoring some of the nearly 74% of production that was shut at platforms in the Gulf of Mexico because of Hurricane Barry.

“Crude oil is having a quiet day today after giving back some of last week’s gains,” Saxo Bank commodity strategist Ole Hansen said.

“U.S. output from the Gulf looks set to increase and … Barry failed to hit refinery assets along the coast.”

Workers were returning to the more than 280 production platforms that had been evacuated. It can take several days for full production to resume.

“You could almost hear the big sigh of relief from oil producers and refiners in the region as the storm passed without causing significant damage,” PVM analyst Tamas Varga said.

The storm will probably result in a noticeable decline in U.S. crude oil stocks this week, analysts at Commerzbank said.

Inventory data will be published by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday evening, and by the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday.

The market was also weighed down by signs of further increases in output from the United States, which has ridden a wave of shale oil production to become the world’s biggest crude producer, ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by about 49,000 barrels per day in August, to a record 8.55 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Market activity has started to slow as it tends to in July and August, the peak European and U.S. holiday season, Hansen said.

Tension between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program kept the market on edge given the potential for a price spike should the situation deteriorate.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran would respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of its oil tanker in Gibraltar.

“The Iranian tension … still makes any oil bear careful,” Varga said.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Dale Hudson/Kirsten Donovan)

Iran’s Zarif warns U.S. of ‘consequences’ over oil sanctions, Strait of Hormuz

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim, in Baghdad, Iraq, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States must be prepared for consequences if it tries to stop Iran from selling oil and using the Strait of Hormuz, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on Wednesday, while also offering to negotiate prisoner swaps with Washington.

The United States on Monday demanded buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers which allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers, most of them in Asia, to continue importing limited volumes.

“We believe that Iran will continue to sell its oil. We will continue to find buyers for our oil and we will continue to use the Strait of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil,” Zarif told an event at the Asia Society in New York.

Reinforcing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s stance, Zarif warned: “If the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it should be prepared for the consequences.” He did not give specifics.

Oil prices hit their highest level since November on Tuesday after Washington’s announcement.

When asked if the U.S. pressure campaign on Tehran was aimed at sparking further negotiations or regime change, Zarif said: “The B team wants regime change at the very least.” He described the B Team as including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton.

“It is not a crisis yet, but it is a dangerous situation. Accidents … are possible. I wouldn’t discount the B team plotting an accident anywhere in the region, particularly as we get closer to the election. We are not there yet.”

Zarif suggested possible cooperation with the United States to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, a priority for both Tehran and Washington.

He also said he was willing to swap British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran since 2016, for an Iranian woman detained in Australia for the past three years on a U.S. extradition request.

“I feel sorry for them, and I have done my best to help,” Zarif said of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “But nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison. … I put this offering on the table publicly now – exchange them.”

Zarif then went on to say that Iran had told the U.S. administration six months ago that it was open to a prisoner swap deal, but had not yet received a response.

“All these people that are in prison inside the United States, on extradition requests from the United States, we believe their charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony. Let’s not discuss that,” he said.

“Let’s have an exchange. I’m ready to do it and I have authority to do it,” Zarif said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Oil hits 2019 high on U.S. plan to tighten squeeze on Iran

FILE PHOTO: An oil pump jack pumps oil in a field near Calgary, Alberta, Canada, July 21, 2014. REUTERS/Todd Korol/File Photo

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices jumped more than 2 percent on Monday to a near six-month high, on growing concern about tight global supplies after the United States announced a further clampdown on Iranian oil exports.

Washington said it will eliminate in May all waivers allowing eight economies to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions.

“The geopolitical risk premium is back in the oil market, in a big way,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “Most, if not all, legitimate commercial interests will avoid Iran oil purchases. Iran’s flow will be reduced to a trickle.”

Brent crude futures rose $2.07, or 2.88 percent, to settle at $74.04 a barrel. The session high of $74.52 a barrel for the international benchmark was the highest since Nov. 1.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures climbed $1.70, or 2.66 percent, to settle at $65.70 a barrel. The contract hit $65.92 a barrel, the highest since Oct. 31.

In November the United States reimposed sanctions on exports of Iranian oil but granted waivers to Iran’s eight main buyers: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece. They were allowed to keep making limited purchases for six months.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that Washington’s goal was to bring down exports of Iranian oil to zero and said there were no plans for a grace period beyond May 1.

U.S. officials are seeking ways to prevent Iran from circumventing oil sanctions, a senior administration official said.

Iran said the decision not to renew the waivers has “no value” but Tehran was in touch with European partners and neighbors and would “act accordingly,” Iranian news agencies reported, citing the Foreign Ministry.

Another drop in Iranian exports would further squeeze supply in a tight market. The United States has also sanctioned OPEC member Venezuela, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers including Russia have voluntarily cut output, which has helped raise oil prices more than 35 percent this year.

Iran’s biggest oil customers are China and India. India hopes Washington will allow allies to keep buying some Iranian oil instead of halting the purchases altogether from May, a source familiar with U.S.-India talks said.

Trump said Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations could “more than make up” for any drop in Iranian oil supplies.

Saudi Arabia said it would coordinate with other producers to ensure an adequate crude supply and a balanced market.

“By and large, we expect the Saudis to up output in likely capping Brent price advances to around the $75-76 area followed by some leveling through much of the spring period,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note.

 

(Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by David Gregorio and Susan Thomas)

Oil prices hit 2019 highs on OPEC cuts and U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringe

By Dmitry Zhdannikov

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose to new 2019 highs on Tuesday, supported by OPEC supply cuts and falling output from Iran and Venezuela because of U.S. sanctions.

Brent crude oil futures were up 16 cents at $67.70 a barrel at 1415 GMT, having earlier risen to a 2019 peak of $68.20, their highest since November 2018.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $59.17, up 8 cents from their last settlement. They also touched their highest since November at $59.57.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Monday scrapped its planned meeting in April, effectively extending supply cuts that have been in place since January until its next regular meeting in June.

OPEC and a group of non-affiliated producers including Russia, known as OPEC+, cut supply in 2019 to halt a sharp price drop that began in the second-half of 2018 on booming U.S. production and fears of a global economic slowdown.

Saudi Arabia has signaled that OPEC and its allies could continue to restrain oil output until the end of 2019.

“The OPEC+ deal has brought stability to crude prices and signs of an extension have taken crude higher,” said Alfonso Esparza, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA.

Prices have been further supported by U.S. sanctions against oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, traders said.

Venezuela has suspended its oil exports to India, one of its key export destinations, the Azeri energy ministry said on Tuesday, citing Venezuela’s oil minister.

Because of the tighter supply outlook for the coming months, the Brent forward curve has gone into backwardation since the start of the year, meaning that prices for immediate delivery are more expensive than those for dispatch in the future. May Brent prices were around $1.20 a barrel more expensive than for December delivery.

(GRAPHIC: Brent crude oil forward curves – https://tmsnrt.rs/2FlM7YZ)

Outside OPEC, analysts are watching U.S. crude oil production that has risen by more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) since early 2018, to about 12 million bpd, making the United States the world’s biggest producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Weekly output and storage data will be published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch said that economic “risks are skewed to the downside” and it is forecasting global demand growth of 1.2 million bpd year on year in 2019 and 1.15 million bpd in 2020.

The bank said it expects Brent and WTI to average $70 and $59 a barrel respectively in 2019 and $65 and $60 a barrel in 2020.

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing Joseph Radford and David Goodman)