Crude Oil Prices Come off Highs as OPEC+ Removes Tail Risk By

© Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith — Crude oil prices came off eight-month highs in early trading in New York on Friday, but held on to almost all of the gains posted in reaction to a reassuring show of discipline and restraint from the world’s biggest producer nations.

By 11:20 AM ET (1545 GMT), futures were up 1.0% at $46.09 a barrel, while the international benchmark was up 0.8% at $49.10 a barrel. Brent had come within 14 cents of the psychologically important $50 mark in the overnight session, but weakened after the U.S. labor market report showed a sharp slowdown in hiring in the U.S. economy that bodes ill for short-term demand. Nonfarm payrolls grew by only 245,000 in the month through mid-November, the smallest gain in employment since the pandemic erupted earlier this year.

There was slightly better news from U.S. factory orders, which eked out a gain of 1.0% in November, a gentler decline than expected.  

Prices appear to be heading into a new, higher range after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia removed the tail risk of a new price war over output policy, with the decision to allow a small increase in production from the end of this year.

The development of multiple vaccines that are expected to allow a return to normal life next year, coupled with the fact that the dip in demand caused by the latest wave has not been as severe as many feared, allowed the OPEC+ bloc to accommodate pressure from countries led by the United Arab Emirates who had argued for raising the production ceiling. 

However, the fact remains that the bloc had been expected at the start of this week to freeze output levels for another three months. As such, the market is now rallying on a negative supply shock, something that some analysts are finding hard to swallow. With stocks also rallying on the day of a weak labor market, many are taking this as another sign of the “Labrador market” that is simply delighted with everything it sees.

“OPEC raise production? Yay! Bullish on less spare capacity!” Paul Sankey of Sankey research wrote – ironically – in emailed comments.

But even after the recent surge – up over 30% since the start of November – oil prices still aren’t high enough to encourage private investment in production, John Hofmeister, the former head of Royal Dutch Shell (LON:)’s U.S. operations, told Fox Business News earlier this week. Chevron (NYSE:) became the latest oil major to make further cuts to its capital spending plans on Thursday, a trend that will make it harder for them to sustain production at current levels in future. 

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