WTI Little Changed on Middle East Unrest, China Audit

West Texas Intermediate crude was little changed as China announced an audit of government debt after industrial profit growth slowed and unrest in the Middle East bolstered concern that supplies will be disrupted.

Futures declined 15 cents in slower-than-average trading. The Chinese State Council under Premier Li Keqiang ordered the review, the National Audit Office said in a statement yesterday. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood urged loyalists to march on security installations today in support of ousted President Mohamed Mursi. The Federal Open Market Committee convenes this week and the U.S. government will report on July employment on Aug. 2.

“The market isn’t doing a lot at the start of what should be a big week,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York hedge fund that focuses on energy. “The emergency audits in China are raising concern that the situation there is worse than was anticipated.”

WTI crude for September delivery settled at $104.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slipped to $103.87 in intraday trading, the lowest level since July 9. Trading was 28 percent below the 100-day average at 2:51 p.m.

Brent for September settlement increased 28 cents, or 0.3 percent, to end the session at $107.45 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Trading was 26 percent below the 100-day average.

The European benchmark grade traded at a $2.90 premium to WTI, up from $2.47 on July 26. It was the fourth straight widening of the spread, the longest stretch of gains since May.

‘Urgent’ Audit

The State Council audit order was “urgent” and the office suspended other projects to work on the review, the People’s Daily reported yesterday on its website, citing sources it didn’t identify. Net income growth at industrial companies slowed to 6.3 percent for the year ended in June from 15.5 percent in May.

China was responsible for 12 percent of global oil consumption and 22 percent of total energy use in 2012, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy. The U.S. accounted for 20 percent of oil demand and 18 percent of total energy use last year.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.2 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.1 percent.

An index of pending U.S. home sales dropped 0.4 percent in June after climbing a month earlier to the highest level since 2006, a report from the National Association of Realtors in Washington showed.

Economic Reports

U.S. gross domestic product probably rose 1 percent on an annualized basis in the second quarter, after gaining 1.8 percent in the previous period, data is forecast to show July 31, according to the median of economists’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Payrolls increased by 185,000 after a 195,000 gain in June, and the jobless rate fell to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent, according to the median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey.

“We’re waiting for the next event to come into view,” said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York. “We will be following the Fed meeting this week as well as the GDP and jobs numbers. If the data’s disappointing, the market is set for a move lower.”

Futures rose earlier on concern that unrest in the Middle East will affect shipments from the region. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood urged loyalists to march on security installations today and call for the reinstatement of Mursi in defiance of government threats.

Middle East

The Middle East accounted for 33 percent of global crude output last year, according to BP. Almost 10 percent of the region’s oil moves through the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean Pipeline, both controlled by Egypt.

The majority of crude oil transiting the Suez Canal travels northbound toward markets in the Mediterranean and North America. A combined 2.24 million barrels a day of oil were shipped from the Red Sea to Europe and North America in 2011 via the Suez Canal and the Suez-Mediterranean, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Implied volatility for at-the-money WTI options expiring in September was 21.2 percent, up from 21 percent July 26, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Electronic trading volume on the Nymex was 393,043 contracts as of 2:55 p.m. It totaled 408,010 contracts July 26, the fewest since May 24 and 38 percent below the three-month average. Open interest was 1.84 million contracts.

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