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Oil prices edge down as traders assess China’s oil demand

Oil prices edged down this morning but held recent ranges as traders assessed China’s oil demand following the coronavirus outbreak and awaited a decision by major producers to cut output further to balance markets.

Oil is off more than 20% from peaks struck in January after a spreading virus hit demand in the world’s largest oil importer and fuelled concerns of excess supplies. 

Brent crude slipped to $53.63 a barrel in early Asian trade, the lowest since January 2019, before recovering to $54.37, down 10 cents. 

US West Texas Intermediate fell eight cents to $50.24 a barrel after striking a low of $49.56. 

“The overall sentiment is still bearish but markets are oversold,” said Avtar Sandu, a senior commodities manager at Phillips Futures in Singapore. He added traders took profit after prices hit technical support levels.

Beijing has orchestrated support for its companies and financial markets in the past week and investors are hoping for more stimulus to lift the world’s second-biggest economy. 

“Normally it takes at least two quarters before things start to pick up but there’s always hope for new stimulus in the market that will buoy the economy,” Sandu said. 

Worries over supply were not alleviated on Friday when Russia said it needed more time to decide on a recommendation from a technical committee that has advised the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies to cut production by a further 600,000 barrels per day. 

Algeria’s oil minister Mohamed Arkab said the committee had advised further output cuts until the end of the second quarter. 

“The coronavirus epidemic has a negative impact on economic activities, especially on the transport, tourism and industry, in China particularly, and also increasingly in the Asian region and gradually in the world,” Arkab said.

Russia Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow needed more time to assess the situation, adding that US crude production growth would slow and global demand was still solid. 

Oil traders also said they are concerned the proposed reduction would not be sufficient to tighten global markets. 

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