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News // Markets & Stocks

Environmental risks keep oil prices above $79

26 July 2010 , 08:40Reuters2687

 

Oil nudged up to just above $79 on Monday, supported by improved risk appetite and expectations that a forecast severe Atlantic hurricane season could bring further disruptions to oil and gas operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Asian shares rose and the euro extended gains on Monday as solid U.S. corporate earnings and strong euro zone data offset growing skepticism that a stress test on European banks were not strict enough. U.S. light, sweet crude for September delivery rose 16 cents to $79.14 a barrel in the Asian session. The contract settled down 32 cents at $78.98 a barrel on Friday, after reaching an intra-day high of $79.60 -- the highest since May 6. London Brent crude inched up 26 cents to $77.71.

 

"Results of the stress test were generally well-received by the market and it helped to provide a little more certainty since there were no real surprises," said Toby Hassall, chief commodities analyst at CWA Global Markets. Only seven of 91 banks -- five small Spanish banks, Germany's state-rescued Hypo Real Estate and Greece's ATEbank -- failed the tests, for an overall capital shortfall of $3.5 billion euros. "On the weather front, even though there is no specific weather threat at this point in time, we have an outlook of a more active than normal hurricane season, so that's offering support to oil prices, which is seeing a weather premium," Hassall said. Energy companies were scrambling to restore offshore oil and gas output but almost 50 percent of daily crude production in U.S.-regulated areas of the Gulf of Mexico was shut as of Sunday due to Tropical Depression Bonnie, the U.S. government said.

 

Forecasters said the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, could be the worst since 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma caused havoc in the Gulf Coast, damaging oil rigs and refineries and forcing sharp cuts in production. In China, Dalian Port Co. has resumed operations at two of its oil berths and its main 300,000 tonnage berth is expected to reopen soon, the company said on Sunday, after a fire at the port a week ago shut the berths down. Analysts said oil prices will continue to be driven by macroeconomic sentiments in the short-term, with investors focusing on the pace and extent of a slowdown in the Chinese economy as well as the speed of economic recovery in the United States, the world's largest energy consumer.

 

On this week's outlook, strategists said Wall Street is on the cusp of a breakout in U.S. stocks, but it will need another spate of convincing earnings reports to feed the rally that sprouted at the end of last week, analysts said. The U.S. economy is not likely to slip back into recession but letting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire is necessary to show commitment to cutting budget deficits, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Sunday. In a sign of increased bullishness on oil prices, open interest positions increased at the September $85 and $90 call options on Friday versus a week ago as crude prices rose to near $80 a barrel before ending the session slightly lower.

 

Money managers also increased net long crude oil positions on the New York Mercantile Exchange to 90,472 from 85,962 in the week through July 20, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Friday. Separately, BP decided Chief Executive Tony Hayward should step down over his handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and his departure is likely to be announced in the next 36 hours, sources close to the company said on Sunday. As the boardroom drama intensified, clearing weather in the spill zone allowed work to resume on drilling a relief well to plug the leak that has been spewing oil into the Gulf for some three months. 

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