Oil prices rise over 1 percent as fresh virus curbs threaten demand recovery

LONDON (Reuters): Oil prices rose about 1 percent on Thursday on increasing Middle East tensions, but fresh movement restrictions imposed by countries to counter a surge in COVID-19 cases threatened the demand recovery.

Brent crude oil futures rose 78 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $71.16 a barrel, after earlier dipping below $70 for the first time since July 21.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures traded 80 cents, or 1.2 percent, higher at $68.95 a barrel.

The growing regional tensions come as nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers that would ease sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports appear to have stalled.

“With tensions brewing among Iran and world powers over last week’s drone attack, it seems nuclear deal talks will be lengthy and unlikely to provide imminent sanction relief for Iran,” said Edward Moya, senior analyst at OANDA.

Offsetting the geopolitical tensions, concerns over the recovery of global oil demand grew amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Both benchmarks fell for a third day in a row to a two-week low on Wednesday, partly due to the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.

Japan is poised to expand emergency restrictions to more prefectures while China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, has imposed curbs in some cities and canceled flights, threatening fuel demand.

“China is now facing its most challenging COVID-19 crisis since the initial outbreak was brought under control,” analysts at consultancy FGE said in a note on Thursday.

In the US, the world’s biggest oil consumer, COVID-19 cases hit a six-month high with more than 100,000 infections reported on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Analysts at investment bank UBS, however, said they expect oil prices to resume their upward trend despite pandemic concerns, projecting Brent crude will trade between $75 and $80 per barrel in the second half of 2021.