As oil markets start to anticipate the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Syria, just how high prices will climb could be anyone’s guess, analysts say.
Brent crude oil prices hit a five-month high at about $111.68 a barrel on Monday after the U.S. government suggested it was moving towards a possible military response to last week’s suspected chemical attack in Syria.
They hovered around $111 in early Asia trade on Tuesday, with weaker-than-expected U.S. economic data helping push oil off their highs.
“We’re already seeing the effect of the threat and oil prices already include a significant risk premium,” Gaurav Sodhi, resource analyst at intelligent investor in Sydney, told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box.”
“It’s hard to know how high this will go. This is a difficult time for investors and analysts – when you have a left-field event like this, all our years of training get thrown out of the window as prices seem to take on a mind of their own,” he added.
U.S. crude oil prices traded 0.5 percent higher in early Asia trade at about $106.45 a barrel.
In the most forceful U.S. reaction to the suspected chemical attacks in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that Washington believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attacks in what he called a “moral obscenity.”
“I suspect what we will see is cruise missile strikes launched from the Mediterranean Sea. If the U.S. wants symbolic action, they may target Assad’s palaces,” Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told “Squawk Box.”
Strategists say that in addition to geopolitical risk, there are other factors such as the U.S. hurricane season pressuring oil supplies that could keep oil prices well-bid.
“We are at these levels in oil because there is a regional concern,” Jonathan Barratt, founder of the commodities newsletter Barratt Bulletin, told CNBC on Monday.
“There’s also the hurricane season in the U.S. that’s about to enter a peak. So when you put that altogether, you have a recipe that could see a spike in the oil price just around the corner,” he added.
Brent crude oil prices have risen roughly 15 percent from lows hit in April. A further rise could exacerbate Asia’s economic woes at a time when emerging markets in the region are taking a hit from worries about an unwinding in U.S. monetary stimulus.
“If oil prices start moving up – that’s a clear negative for Asia,” said Nomura’s Chief Economist Rob Subbaraman. “The economy most at risk is India, which is very exposed to oil prices and so a spike in oil would worsen inflation, it would worsen the fiscal deficit.”