Brent futures slipped towards $103 (Dh378) a barrel on Monday as both implied oil demand and refinery crude throughput in the world’s second-largest oil consumer China fell to eight-month lows, with a firm dollar also weighing on prices.
China’s refinery crude throughput fell 3 per cent in April from March, notching its lowest daily rate since last September, as refineries entered maintenance season. Annual industrial output growth quickened to 9.3 per cent in April, recovering from a seven-month low in March, but missed market expectations.
Brent crude slipped 71 cents to $103.20 a barrel by 06.22 GMT (10.22am UAE time). It settled down 56 cents on Friday and ended the week lower after gains in the previous two. US oil fell 77 cents to $95.27 a barrel, sliding for a fourth session out of five.
“The industrial production data confirms the view that China’s growth momentum is slowing,” said Natalie Rampono, an analyst at ANZ. “For oil, the numbers are weak because there is still a lot of capacity under maintenance.”
The surprisingly muted factory output growth data in April has darkened the outlook for China’s economic recovery. It also fed expectations that the government may take policy action to support growth.
“The weak industrial output data makes a good case to cut interest rates,” Rampono said. “That’s more so because inflation in China is quite subdued.”
Slowdown in demand growth
Oil has remained under pressure because of a firm dollar, and on renewed worries of a slowdown in demand growth from the world’s top oil consumer the United States.
The US economy is expected to grow at a slower pace in the second and third quarters of this year, according to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s quarterly survey of 42 forecasters, compared with their previous estimates. Additional pressure for risk assets came from a broad rally in the dollar following strong data on the US labour market.
“Strength in the dollar is weighing on commodities across the board,” said Ben Le Brun, analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney. “For oil, worries of ample supplies is putting pressure. We have unprecedented levels of stockpiles in the United States, with uncertainty surrounding economic growth.”
A firm dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies. The dollar rose on speculation the Federal Reserve could scale back its aggressive monetary stimulus aimed at supporting growth.
While there are signs of labour market resilience, the rest of the US economy is showing some strain. Analysts expect the US economy to grow at an annual rate of 1.8 per cent in the current quarter, according to the Philadelphia Fed’s survey. US retail sales are expected to have declined for a second straight month in April.
The weak demand outlook amid ample supplies will keep Brent futures trading between $100 and $105 a barrel through May, while the US benchmark will swing in a wider range between $90 and $98 a barrel, ANZ’s Rampono said. For the second quarter, WTI will average around $97 and Brent around $107, she said.