Oil prices were stable on Thursday as a U.S. stock draw tightened the market while Asia’s economies showed new signs of weakness.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were trading at $47.13 per barrel at 0430 GMT, virtually unchanged from their previous close, while Brent was up 6 cents at $49.81 per barrel.
That followed a price jump of as much as 6 percent in the previous session when data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed the largest crude drawdown since February 2014 at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point.
Singapore-based brokerage Phillip Futures said that the stock draw was “a result of higher refining activity and lower U.S. crude production which is helping the U.S. inventory glut to ease off”.
But Wednesday’s price gains did not extend into Thursday, capped by weak economic data from Asia as Japan’s exports slowed for a second month in August in a sign that China’s economic slowdown is spreading.
Despite Asia’s slowing economies, some analysts said that oil markets may have bottomed out following over a year of tumbling prices as producers start cutting back output.
“Non-OPEC, non-U.S. oil supply (e.g. Yemen, Mexico, Malaysia, Colombia and China) has peaked and is starting to decline as double-digit capex cuts start to impact production,” Bernstein Research said.
The cuts would result in a combined reduction of 400 million barrels per day by the end of the year, but it added that “markets could remain oversupplied through 2016” despite the scale-back.
U.S. crude prices have risen more in recent weeks than globally traded Brent futures, owing largely to Asia’s weakening economies as well as rising output from West Africa and the North Sea. This has narrowed the WTI discount on Brent by almost 70 percent since mid-August to around $2.20 per barrel.
“Brent appears to be suffering from higher Atlantic Basin supplies (West Africa and North Sea) as well as the wider macro picture, with concern over China and consequent trouble in emerging markets, while European growth remains anemic,” said JBC Energy.
Meanwhile, traders are keeping a close eye on whether the Federal Reserve would later in the day raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade.
Higher U.S. interest rates would likely attract cash from money traders, lifting the dollar. That could be bearish for dollar-denominated oil as it would make fuel more expensive for importers who hold other currencies.