Oil prices kept to a tight range on Friday as strong labor data fueled fears of rising U.S. interest rates, but were set for a second straight week of gains amid signs of tighter supplies and improving demand.
Data on Thursday showed that U.S. inventories shrank more than expected in the week to June 30, with a bigger-than-expected drop in gasoline inventories indicating improved fuel demand amid the travel-heavy summer season.
The reading helped crude markets settle steady on Thursday, largely avoiding a rout in broader financial markets after private payrolls data showed a strong U.S. labor market, driving up fears that the Federal Reserve will remain hawkish in raising interest rates.
Brent oil futures were flat at $76.42 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude futures steadied at $71.75 a barrel by 21:26 ET (01:26 GMT). Both contracts were set to add between 1.7% and 2.3% for the week.
Oil buoyed by tighter supplies
The draw in U.S. inventories also comes after Saudi Arabia said it will maintain a 1 million barrels per day (bpd) supply cut until August-end, and potentially later. The production cut went into effect from the beginning of July. Russia also said it will cut its oil exports by 500,000 bpd in August.
The production cuts come on top of supply reductions by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries earlier in the year, and are largely aimed at tightening global crude markets and supporting oil prices.
Analysts now broadly expect the oil market to remain tight through the remainder of the year, which is expected to keep a floor under prices. But strong gains in crude prices are also in doubt, amid a worsening macroeconomic outlook.
China weakness, Fed fears expected to limit crude gains
A string of weaker-than-expected economic readings from China raised concerns over whether the country will be able to drive a recovery in oil demand this year.
In addition to China, rising U.S. interest rates are also expected to weigh on economic activity this year, keeping a lid on crude demand and oil prices. Thursday’s strong labor data rounded off a slew of hawkish signals from the Fed over the past week.
“A more hawkish Federal Reserve, limited speculative appetite, robust Russian supply and rising Iranian supply all suggest that the market will not trade as high as initially expected. We still forecast that the market will be in deficit over the second half of the year,” analysts at ING wrote in a note.
Focus is now on U.S. nonfarm payrolls data, due later in the day, for more cues on the Fed.