Oil prices fell on Wednesday, after six straight higher finishes, as the euro weakened against the dollar and US equities on Wall Street pulled back from their recent rally.
The euro fell to an 11-month low against the US dollar after support from a drop in short-term Italian borrowing costs faded in thin trading and traders eyed a sale of longer-term debt by the same country on Thursday.
Analysts and brokers also pointed to a European Central Bank report showing banks deposited 452 billion euros ($585 billion) at the central bank — a record high, indicating banks still prefer to deposit their money at the ECB rather than lend to each other.
“The worry is that banks are borrowing and then sitting on the money and not lending it, and that will limit growth just like it did in the United States,” said Mark Waggoner, president at Excel Futures Inc. in Bend, Oregon.
A stronger dollar can pressure dollar-denominated commodities such as oil by making them more expensive for
consumers using other currencies and by attracting investment to foreign exchange or other markets seeking better returns.
US equities fell and the S&P 500 erased gains for the year, pulling back after a recent year-end rally, with many investors expressing concern about the outlook for early 2012.
Oil investors also remained cautious due to Iranian threats to halt oil shipments via the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on Tehran’s oil exports because of a dispute with the West over Iran’s nuclear program.
Brent February crude fell $1.45 to $107.82 a barrel by 1:44 p.m. EST (1844 GMT).
After briefly rising and pushing above its 50- and 100-day moving averages to reach $109.50, Brent fell as low as $106.77, which was under its 300-day moving average of $107.78.
US crude fell $1.71 to $99.63 a barrel, having traded as low as $99.11.
Crude trading volumes remained thin in the year-end holiday week, with Brent turnover 48 percent and that of US crude 63 percent below their 30-day averages.
Brent’s premium to US crude remained near the $8 a barrel level.
Facing the possibility of more European Union sanctions by the end of January over its nuclear program, Iran’s first vice-president on Tuesday warned that the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz would be stopped if foreign sanctions are imposed on Iran’s oil exports.
Closing off the Gulf to oil tankers will be “easier than drinking a glass of water,” Iran’s top naval commander told the country’s state television on Wednesday.
The US Fifth Fleet said it would not allow any disruption of traffic in the strait.
“Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated,” the Bahrain-based fleet said in an e-mail.
France urged Iran to adhere to international law allowing freedom of navigation.
Turmoil and internal strife in fellow OPEC-members Iraq and Nigeria also have added to the concerns about potential threats to oil supply.
Ahead of weekly reports on stockpiles, US crude inventories were expected to have fallen last week, with
distillate stocks also down and gasoline stocks unchanged, according to a Reuters survey of analysts on Tuesday.
Industry group American Petroleum Institute will release its data at 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT) on Wednesday, with the USEnergy Information Administration’s report following at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) on Thursday.