SEOUL (Reuters) – Oil prices steadied on Wednesday after falling at the start of the session, with the potential for damage to the global economy and fuel demand from the intensifying Sino-U.S. trade dispute continuing to cast a shadow over the market.
International benchmark Brent crude futures were at $58.97 a barrel by 0221 GMT, up 3 cents, or 0.05%, from their previous settlement and trading near seven-month lows.
Meanwhile West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 8 cents, or 0.15%, from their last close to $53.56 per barrel.
“It’s not a huge move…What we’re looking at is steady, reflecting concerns among traders whether or not the trade dispute development is fully priced in,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
Brent prices have plunged more than 9% in the past week after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would slap a 10% tariff on a further $300 billion in Chinese imports starting on Sept. 1, sending global equity markets into a tailspin.
“Crude oil prices remained under pressure as investors grappled with the impact of the trade conflict,” ANZ bank said in a note.
But Trump on Tuesday dismissed fears the trade row with China could be drawn out.
Asian shares steadied slightly on Wednesday as investors caught their breath from a week-long selloff, with steps taken by Chinese authorities to contain a sliding yuan easing fears of the Sino-U.S. trade and currency war.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday said both sides expressed concern over threats targeting freedom of maritime traffic in the Arabian Gulf as they met in Washington.
“There are concerns that an event could occur at any moment…the risk might be shifting to the upside in the near term for oil contracts,” CMC Markets strategist McCarthy added.
Tensions in the Middle East have heightened in the wake of attacks on tankers and U.S. drones, raising concerns over passing through the Straight of Hormuz, a key shipping artery of global oil trade.
Elsewhere, data indicating a larger-than-expected drop in U.S. crude stocks offered some support to oil prices.
U.S. crude inventories fell by 3.4 million barrels in the week ended Aug.2 to 439.6 million barrels, compared with analyst expectations for a decrease of 2.8 million barrels.
Official data from the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) is due later on Wednesday.