Oil falls as Fed minutes send U.S. equities down

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Brent crude extended losses in late trading on Wednesday to settle below $103 a barrel, after minutes from the Federal Reserve sent U.S. stock markets down and compounded earlier oil weakness stemming from a rise in U.S. gasoline inventories.

U.S. equities fell in choppy trading, with the Dow briefly down more than 1 percent, after Fed chief Ben Bernanke suggested the central bank was not ready to curb economic stimulus but may act if the economy keeps improving.

Brent crude futures fell $1.31 to settle at $102.60, after shedding nearly a dollar in the previous session.

After dropping more than $2, U.S. crude settled down $1.90 at $94.28 a barrel, its biggest one-day loss since May 1.

"You had a couple of Fed governors talking about ending quantitative easing as early as June, and because of that, people are thinking 'Oh, the Fed is done,'" said Mark Waggoner, president at Excel Futures in Bend, Oregon.

"If there's uncertainty, people want to take profits off of these highs. Then if the economy slows, demand slows for crude oil."

Earlier in the session, the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration said gasoline inventories rose by 3 million barrels last week, suggesting the U.S. domestic fuel market was well supplied for the peak driving season.

U.S. crude inventories fell by 338,000 barrels, the EIA report showed, but stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, crude storage hub rose 449,000 barrels to 50.172 million barrels.

Analysts had expected crude stocks to drop by 800,000 barrels and gasoline stocks to remain unchanged from a week ago.

"The fundamental picture remains weak, and that seems to be what's weighing on the market," said Gene McGillian, analyst with Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

"Every time we approach $98 on U.S. crude, the fundamentals drag the market back towards $90."

U.S. gasoline fell 2.5 cents to $2.82 a gallon, having hit a session low of $2.79. Gasoline has slid nearly 4 percent since May 17, when it touched $2.93, its highest in a month.

"Concerns over inventories had produced the recent rally, and gasoline's strength spilled over into the rest of the complex," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York.

FED OFFICIALS SEEK "MORE CONFIDENCE"

Many Federal Reserve officials earlier this month wanted to see more evidence that the U.S. economy was recovering before shifting toward a tapering of their bond purchase program, the Fed said on Wednesday.

The U.S. central bank's three quantitative easing (QE) programs have released hundreds of billions of dollars into money markets over the last four years, boosting many commodities including oil.

Earlier in the day, the dollar rallied to a 4-1/2-year high against the yen and a near three-year peak against a currency basket after Bernanke stoked speculation the central bank could begin slowing its asset buying in coming months.

Investors will watch on Thursday for May's initial purchasing managers indexes for signs of economic revival in the three key consumer regions: China, the United States and the euro zone. Reuters surveys suggest they may show a slight pickup from April but not enough to dispel fears of a sluggish outlook.

(Additional reporting by Sabina Zawadski in New York, Christopher Johnson and Simon Falush in London, Ramya Venugopal in Chennai, India; Editing by David Gregorio and Dale Hudson)



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