Crude futures were lower Thursday, nearing price levels last seen before uprisings in the Middle East, as investors rethink long-profitable trades in commodities and currency markets.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery recently traded $1, or 1%, lower at $97.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange traded 74 cents lower at $111.83 a barrel.
Oil prices continued falling after a 5.5% drop Wednesday, with further losses following a report from the International Energy Agency that said high energy prices and weaker economic projections are eroding oil-demand growth, particularly in the U.S.
The latest correction has pulled crude prices towards two-and-a-half-month lows, prices last seen before uprisings in Egypt and Libya spooked investors wary of supply disruptions. With little evidence that the unrest will spread to more major crude exporters, traders are now concerned that long-profitable bets on rising oil will turn sour amid a rebound in the dollar.
"The currencies are playing a big role," said Matt Zeman, chief market strategist at Kingsview Financial. "Eventually, when everybody is on one side of the boat, it capsizes."
The dollar has staged a sharp comeback against the euro in recent days, with traders retreating from bets that the dollar would fall against the euro amid fears of deteriorating conditions in Greece and other euro-zone nations.
A stronger dollar typically sends oil lower, as it makes crude more expensive for buyers in other currencies.
Meanwhile, falling fuel consumption in recent weeks due to high prices offered traders another reason to sell. On Wednesday, gasoline futures fell by more than 7.6%--a drop that briefly halted trading on the Nymex--after Energy Department data showed an unexpected rise in gasoline stockpiles. The report confirmed for many market participants that retail gasoline prices near $4 a gallon are pushing consumers and businesses to cut back on usage.
Front-month June reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, recently traded 4.23 cents, or 1.4%, lower at $3.0805 a gallon. June heating oil recently traded 0.38 cent lower at $2.8945 a gallon.
Kingsview's Zeman said oil could be on pace to fall through $90 a barrel, if not further, given the latest correction.
This week's moves in oil "say it never should have been as high as it was," said Rich Ilczyszyn, a broker with Lind-Waldock. "We're at a definite inflection point."