Oil Prices Muted Before Data-Heavy Week; M.east Jitters Persist

  • Posted on January 15, 2024
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Investing.com-- Oil prices moved little in Asian trade on Monday as markets awaited new developments in the Middle East conflict, while anticipation of several key U.S. and Chinese economic readings this week kept sentiment on edge.Crude prices had marked strong gains towards the end of last week, after U.S. and British strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi Group ramped up concerns over a broader conflict in the Middle East, which, coupled with the Israel-Hamas war, threatened to disrupt oil supply from the region.Markets were now awaiting any potential retaliation by the Houthis for last week’s strikes, after the group said it will continue targeting ships headed towards Israel.But while the conflict did see several shipping operators suspend routes through the Red Sea, it was yet to cause any tangible disruption to global oil supplies. Suez Canal authorities also noted last week that traffic through the key route remained regular.Oil prices were also nursing a weak start to 2024 after tumbling over 10% in the past year, as markets remained convinced that global crude demand will see little improvement this year amid pressure from high interest rates, cooling economic growth and sticky inflation.Brent oil futures expiring in March fell 0.1% to $78.23 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 0.1% to $72.73 a barrel by 19:48 ET (00:48 GMT). A U.S. market holiday is expected to keep trading volumes thin.China, US data awaited for more demand cuesFocus was now squarely on key upcoming economic readings from the U.S. and China this week, for more cues on the potential path of demand.China’s central bank is expected to cut medium-term lending rates later on Monday, as it struggles to shore up a slowing economic recovery.Chinese fourth-quarter gross domestic product data is due on Wednesday, and is expected to potentially set the tone for the Chinese economy in 2024. GDP is expected to have slightly edged past the government’s 5% annual target, but the rise also comes from a lower basis of comparison from the prior year.Fuel demand in the country appeared to have improved, as trade data on Friday showed China’s oil imports reached record highs in 2023. But the outlook for Chinese demand remained uncertain in the face of high inventories and persistent weakness in the country's biggest economic engines.In the U.S., markets will be watching for addresses from a string of Federal Reserve officials for more cues on when the central bank plans to begin cutting interest rates this year. Retail sales data is also expected to offer more cues on inflation, after data last week showed consumer price index (CPI) inflation grew more than expected in December.Sticky inflation is expected to potentially delay the Fed’s plans to begin cutting interest rates. The dollar found some strength on this notion, which also weighed on oil prices.

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