By Jim Hyerczyk
U.S. West Texas Intermediate and International-benchmark Brent crude oil futures are trading higher on Friday after a steep sell-off the past two sessions. The markets are trading inside Thursday’s range which suggests investor indecision and impending volatility. It could also be suggesting that traders are transitioning for a counter-trend move. Nonetheless, U.S. and Brent crude are both in positions to post a second week of losses.
China Enters the Picture
The focus for investors late in the week shifted to U.S.-China relations and the on-going Sino-U.S. trade war. Despite the early strength, gains are still being limited by concerns that these events are hurting overall economic activity.
Early Friday, domestic government data showed refinery throughput in China, the world’s second-largest oil importer, rose to a record high of 12.49 million barrels per day (bpd) in September as some independent plants restarted operations after prolonged shutdowns over summer to shore up inventories.
However, the report also showed that refinery consumption may rise through the fourth quarter as several state-owned Chinese refiners return to service after maintenance.
On the bearish demand side, China also reported on Friday its weakest economic growth since 2009 in the third quarter, with gross domestic product expanding by only 6.5 percent, coming in below estimates.
Looking ahead, the weak GDP data raised concerns that the country’s trade war with the United States is beginning to have an impact on growth, which may limit China’s oil demand.
Despite Friday’s early rebound rally, the data this week has been bearish so we’re not expecting too much of a reversal to the upside. Putting the most downside pressure on prices this week has been the bearish EIA Weekly Petroleum Status Report.
U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Report
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. crude stocks rose 6.5 million barrels during the week-ending October 12, the fourth straight weekly build. Traders were looking for a 1.6 million barrel build.
Inventories rose sharply even as U.S. crude production fell 300,000 bpd to 10.9 million bpd last week. Analysts said the drop was attributed to the effects of offshore facilities closing temporarily for Hurricane Michael.
Gasoline stockpiles fell by 2 million barrels last week, while distillate stockpiles declined by 800,000 barrels, according to the EIA. Forecasts called for a drop of 1.52 million barrels in gasoline and 1.5 million barrels for distillates.
Saudi Arabia’s Problems Worsen
Oil traders are also continuing to monitor developments over the death of a prominent Saudi journalist. According to CNBC, U.S. President Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt in the disappearance and apparent death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi even as U.S. lawmakers pointed the finger at the Saudi leadership and Western pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers.
The outcome of an investigation could lead to U.S. sanctions against Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials have also promised retaliation if sanctions are pursued. This may mean a cut in production, which should be bullish for prices. Some traders are speculating Saudi Arabia could cut as much as 500,000 barrels per day of crude production in response to any U.S. sanctions.
In the meantime, the Saudi’s tried to deflect the negative news by talking up its role in preventing a worldwide oil shortage following the start of the sanctions against Iran on November 4. In an attempt to prevent a speculative rally and keep prices under control, Saudi Arabia assured OPEC that it is “committed, capable and willing” to ensure there will be no shortage in the oil market, OPEC’s secretary-general said.
In other news, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are expected to struggle to resume oil production from jointly operated fields that produced some 500,000 bpd any time soon due to operational differences and souring political ties, CNBC sources said on Wednesday.
Additionally, the West is trying to put financial pressure on the Saudi’s amid growing controversy over Khashoggi by pulling out of its major investment conference. On Wednesday, the managing direction of the International Monetary Fund and the heads of two major French banks said they would not attend the conference. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that he will not participate in the high-profile conference.
Weekly December West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil Technical Analysis
The chart pattern is fairly simple for December WTI crude oil. While the daily chart is showing volatility, the weekly chart is revealing an orderly break into a potential value area. Looking at another time period other than the daily chart tends to strip out the volatility and the emotion to get a clearer picture about the actual price action.
Despite two weeks of weakness, the main trend is still up. A trade through $76.72 will signal a resumption of the uptrend. A move through $63.48 will change the main trend to down.
The minor trend is also up. A trade through $66.50 will change the minor trend to down. This will also shift momentum to the downside.
The main range is $63.48 to $76.72. Its retracement zone is $70.10 to $68.54. The market is currently trading inside this zone. Trader reaction to the area will determine the near-term direction of the market.
While we can’t control the continuing headlines – both bullish and bearish – we can read the chart pattern and it is indicating that investors have been stripping out speculation and looking for value. The value zone is $70.10 to $68.54.
Based on this week’s price action, the direction of the December WTI crude oil market next week will likely be determined by trader reaction to $68.54.
A sustained move over $68.54 will indicate buyers are coming in to defend the uptrend. Overtaking $70.10 will signal that the buying is getting stronger. If this move creates enough upside momentum then we could see a rebound rally into at least $72.63 next week. A test of this level will determine if prices continue to move higher, or if the market becomes rangebound.
A sustained move under $68.54 will signal the presence of sellers. They are going to go after the minor bottom at $66.50 in an effort to shift momentum to the downside.