Oil Steadies as Violent Iran Clashes Fail to Disrupt Supplies

Updated on
  • OPEC’s No. 3 source of crude clamps down on spreading discord
  • New York futures touch highest intraday price since June 2015
"We still see oil prices contained in a range," Francisco Blanch of Bank of America Merrill Lynch says.

Oil settled close to a 30-month high after days of civil unrest in Iran failed to interrupt supplies from OPEC’s third-biggest crude producer.

Futures declined 0.1 percent in New York. Even as the death toll mounted in Iran amid violent clashes between security forces and protesters, the nation’s petroleum exports have yet to be impacted, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Last week’s 3.3 percent advance in the U.S. oil benchmark capped a 12 percent gain for 2017 as OPEC and Russia cooperated to curb a worldwide glut.

“The market wants to see if the tension actually leads to disruption,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

Oil rose in New York last year as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies trimmed supplies. U.S. crude output has also slipped from a record high, with weekly production falling through Dec. 22 for the first time since mid-October. Any interruption to Iranian supply would be a significant shock to the market.

West Texas Intermediate for February delivery declined 5 cents to settle at $60.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In earlier trading, the contract touched $60.74, the highest intraday level since June 2015.

See also: OPEC Wins Over Hedge Funds to Make 2017 Oil’s Most Bullish Year

Brent for March settlement fell 30 cents to close at $66.57 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, and traded at a premium of $6.19 to WTI for the same month. The global benchmark crude rose about 18 percent last year for a second annual increase.

Though the Iranian unrest that began Thursday in the northeastern city of Mashhad initially targeted the government’s handling of the economy, the focus expanded within a day to the religious establishment and state security forces. Accounts varied, but as many as a dozen people may have died.

“I would not be surprised if any outcome of the current crisis would be ultimately negative for the oil price,” said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “Should the protests lead to regime change, it might attract massive new investments and result in higher output.”

Under current conditions, prices this year may remain largely range-bound between $40 and $60 a barrel, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Prices will be penned in by rising U.S. shale production, declining but still high global supplies and eroding compliance with OPEC-led output cuts, the ratings agency said in a report Tuesday.

Oil-market news:

  • U.S. drillers targeting crude kept the rig count unchanged for a second week at 747, Baker Hughes said on Friday. 
  • Repairs to a Libyan pipeline damaged on Dec. 26 were completed Saturday and delivery of oil to the Es Sider terminal has resumed, according to a person directly involved with the matter.
  • The North Sea’s Forties Pipeline System, which carries crude used to price the Dated Brent benchmark, is fully operational after being shut early last month following the discovery of a crack.
  • Russia’s oil industry continued its long-term expansion last year, with annual average production hitting a record even as President Vladimir Putin joined forces with OPEC to clear a global glut and lift prices.

— With assistance by Ben Sharples, Julian Lee, and Grant Smith

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