Oil Jumps Near $123 as Chance of Russian Ban Spurs Crisis Fears
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Oil had its biggest daily swing ever, surging to near $140 before pulling back, on the prospect of even tighter supplies after the U.S. said it was considering a ban on Russian crude imports.
Brent subsequently eased to about $121, a level that’s exacerbating fears of a major inflationary shock to the global economy. The Biden administration is mulling whether to prohibit Russian oil imports without the participation of allies in Europe, at least initially, according to people familiar with the matter. Germany said it has no plans to halt Russian energy imports, bolstering the volatility in the market.
Diesel futures in Europe and the U.S. touched the highest in decades, while gasoline contracts also leaped. Shell Plc is limiting sales of heating oil in some parts of Germany as supplies of the fuel come under pressure.
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Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again for a third round of talks. But with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Kyiv must agree to his demands if fighting is to end, hopes for progress in the meeting later March 7 are low. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC over the weekend that the White House is in “very active discussions” with Europe about a ban to tighten the economic squeeze on Putin, but most buyers are refusing to take it anyway, resulting in an embargo in all but name.
At one point March 7, Brent was up $21 as the market adjusted to the possibility of losing supplies from one of the world’s top three producers. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Brent could end the year at $185 a barrel if Russian shipments continue to be disrupted, while one hedge fund said even $200 was a possibility.
Surging prices of oil and other commodities are raising alarm bells everywhere. The International Monetary Fund over the weekend warned of severe consequences for the global economy. Major oil importers are starting to come under pressure, with the rupee among the biggest currency losers in Asia amid fears the Reserve Bank of India will have to raise its inflation forecast but have little scope to tighten monetary policy.
“We have plenty of twists and turns to come,” Mike Muller, Vitol Group’s head of Asia, said Sunday on a podcast produced by Dubai-based consultant and publisher Gulf Intelligence. “While I think the world is already pricing in the fact there’ll be an inability to take in a serious amount of Russian oil in the Western Hemisphere, I don’t think we’ve priced in everything yet.”
Brent for May settlement advanced 2.5% to $121.06 a barrel in London, after rising to $139.13 earlier. The contract rose 21% last week.
West Texas Intermediate for April climbed 1.2% to $117.06.
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Brent’s recent swings are eclipsing those seen during the global financial crisis of 2008 and the demand plunge sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Traders, shippers, insurers and banks have been increasingly wary of taking on or funding purchases of Russian barrels as they navigate international financial sanctions.
There are efforts underway to try to increase supply. Two senior U.S. officials met with members of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas to discuss global oil supplies and the country’s ties to Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Iran, meanwhile, made progress toward a deal with world powers over its nuclear program, which could pave the way for sanctions on Tehran’s oil to be lifted by the third quarter.
More immediately, though, supply from some of the other biggest producers continues to be a worry. OPEC member Libya said its output fell below 1 million barrels a day because of a domestic political crisis. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies last week also decided to stay the course with only gradual output increases.
— With assistance from Elizabeth Low and Rob Verdonck.