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Crude up As China Loosens COVID Curbs, EU Talks Stumble

  • Oil rallied Monday to its highest levels since March, with the EU in a sanctions crunch and as China eased COVID curbs.
  • Diplomats failed to break through Hungary’s opposition to a Russian oil embargo ahead of EU leaders’ talks Monday.
  • China lifted parts of its zero-COVID curbs in Beijing and Shanghai, easing fears about a fall in demand.

Crude oil prices on Monday climbed to their highest levels since March, after China signaled an easing of COVID curbs and as European Union diplomats scrambled to seal a deal on a Russian embargo.

Brent crude was last up around 0.75% to $116.43 a barrel, while WTI crude rose 0.57% to $115.72 a barrel. It’s the first time both Brent and WTI have traded above $115 since March 23, when disruption to the Caspian pipeline intensified supply fears

Boosting investors’ hopes for the oil supply outlook were moves by China to loosen zero-COVID restrictions in key regions. Some public transport services reopened in Beijing on Sunday, and it plans to end a two-month lockdown in Shanghai on June 1.

Concerns about demand for oil from economic powerhouse China have weighed on crude prices as the government pursued tough restrictions to hamper the spread of coronavirus.

“Markets pricing in peak virus in Beijing and Shanghai are behind the rally in oil prices today, with a China reopening likely leading to increased oil consumption,” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda, said.

“Unlike recent times, markets seem unconcerned about oil moving back to March highs, emphasising how much pent-up risk-sentiment demand there appears to be out there,” he added.

While Brent crude was rising thanks to EU efforts to get Hungary on board its plan for a Russian oil embargo, Halley noted other factors. 

“The underlying driver though is the massive squeeze on refined products we are seeing around the world, which is lifting the base ingredient for all that diesel and petrol that has got very expensive,” he said.

Over the weekend, EU negotiators failed to break through Hungary’s opposition to a Russian oil ban ahead of crunch talks among the bloc’s leaders on Monday. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyden is proposing a complete ban on all Russian oil imports.

“It’s unlikely that members come to an agreement when they meet, given that talks have not progressed enough,” ING’s head of commodities strategy, Warren Patterson, said. 

The unity of the EU’s 27 countries against Russia could already be coming to an end, Germany’s economy minister said Sunday.

“After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, we saw what can happen when Europe stands united,” Robert Habeck said. “But it is already starting to crumble and crumble again.”

EU diplomats have been in talks for a nearly a month about an embargo in the next round of sanctions, grappling with objections from Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. The US and UK have both banned Russian oil imports. 

One proposal under discussion is for EU sanctions to include an exemption for Russian oil delivered via the Druzhba pipeline to Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia, Reuters reported.

The start of the US summer ‘driving season’ will also support high commodity prices, analysts said.

“The U.S. driving season and strong travel demand should help prices,” UBS’s Giovanni Stauvino said. “With supply growth lagging demand growth, the oil market is likely to stay undersupplied.”

Read more: Rising oil prices are just a sliver of what’s to come, says an energy expert. He breaks down the top 3 things investors need to understand in the face of an upcoming unprecedented energy crisis, and how to play the market.

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