Oil falls amid rising COVID-19 cases, U.S. election uncertainty

File – A crude oil pump jack and flare burning excess gas in Texas (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Oil fell more than 1% on Friday as new lockdowns in Europe to halt surging COVID-19 infections sparked concern about the outlook for demand, while markets remained on edge over drawn-out vote counting in the U.S. election.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 were down 55 cents, or 1.42%, at $38.24 a barrel at 0901 GMT, while Brent crude LCOc1 was 51 cents, or 1.2%, lower at $40.42. Both contracts fell more than $1 earlier in the day.

Still, Brent crude is poised for a 7.8% gain this week, while WTI is set to climb 6.9%.

Italy recorded its highest daily number of infections on Thursday and cases surged by at least 120,276 in the United States, the second consecutive daily record as the outbreak spreads across the country.

“COVID-19’s rampage across Europe and the U.S. is likely to deliver a hit to consumption,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“With no concrete evidence that OPEC+ is moving to slow or reverse the pace of production increases, the supply/demand imbalance has capped oil’s pre-election rally,” he added.

The European Union’s executive commission also cut its economic forecast and predicted the bloc won’t see a rebound to pre-virus levels until 2023.

Vote counting and trends from the U.S. election point to the Republicans retaining control of the Senate, while Democrats are expected to take a slimmed majority in the House of Representatives, dashing hopes for a large stimulus package, another factor weighing on oil.

President Donald Trump, without providing evidence, late on Thursday said he would win the election if “legal” votes were counted, the latest effort to cast doubt on counting now heading for a third day.

“The most critical questions for oil are how quickly a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, whether a U.S. stimulus deal can be achieved in a fractious and uncertain political environment, and how OPEC will respond to demand concerns,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, is expected to delay bringing back 2 million barrels per day of supply in January, given the decline in demand from new COVID-19 lockdowns.

Providing some support for the market, U.S. inventories of crude oil plunged last week, although much of the fall was attributed to production being shut down as another hurricane swept through the Gulf of Mexico.

Stockpiles fell by 8 million barrels in the week to Oct. 30, against analyst expectations of a rise of nearly 900,000 barrels.

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