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Oil Drifts Amid New China Covid Scare, Imminent CPI Data

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Commodities 14 minutes ago (Jul 11, 2022 02:59PM ET)

Oil Drifts Amid New China Covid Scare, Imminent CPI Data © Reuters.

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com — Oil prices settled mixed Monday after last week’s overall loss as China reported its first case of the highly-transmissible Omicron subvariant. Persistent rate hike chatter by Federal Reserve officials ahead of another strong print on inflation expected this week sent the dollar to new two-decade highs, weighing as well on crude.

New York-traded , or WTI, crude settled down 70 cents, or 0.7%, at $104.09 a barrel. WTI lost about 3% at the session low, hitting $100.91. Last week, the U.S. crude benchmark fell 3%.

London-traded settled up 8 cents, or 0.1%, at $107.10 a barrel. Like WTI, Brent slid about 3% earlier Monday, posting a session low of $103.71, before short covering helped its recovery. Last week, the global crude benchmark lost nearly 4%.

China’s Shanghai city, which spent months in a tough lockdown earlier this year, has now discovered a Covid case involving the Omicron BA.5.2.1 subvariant, a city official told a media briefing at the weekend. The discovery signals the complications China faces to keep up with new mutations as it pursues its “zero-Covid” policy.

Oil bulls dismissed the China Covid report, with Price Futures Group energy analyst Phil Flynn wryly remarking that “China and Covid always seem to come up when oil prices rise”.

The June print for the , due Wednesday, could show that inflation hasn’t slowed, with economists expecting an annual reading of 8.8% versus 8.6% for May.

Markets are preparing for the odds of the imposing non-stop rate hikes of 75 basis points this month and the next three if the CPI does not retreat as quickly enough as the central bank expects by the year-end. 

Hawkish chatter on rates sent the , which pits the U.S. currency against six other majors, to a new high above 108 since Oct 2002. Dollar-denominated commodities, including crude, typically see little demand from overseas buyers when the U.S. currency rallies.

“Oil prices are weakening as crude demand outlook is hit by a one-two punch from China’s rising COVID cases and Wall Street jitters that inflation is hitting the US economy much harder than analysts were expecting,” Ed Moya, analyst at online trading platform OANDA, said. 

Moya noted that this would be a “massive week” for Wall Street as Fed expectations for the July 27th rate decision will be cemented after the CPI report, and signal from banks on whether the US consumer and economy were weakening faster than most earnings estimates are implying. 

As though on cue, the New York Fed said on Monday that more than half of the consumers it surveyed for this month declared that their household financial situation had deteriorated from a year ago and nearly half expect it to worsen in 2023.

“Second quarter corporate profits will struggle given inflation has run much hotter than anyone expected,” said Moya. “​Inflation is ‘public enemy number one’ and that will continue to drive fears that the Fed will aggressively tighten policy and send the US economy quickly into a recession. Oil will struggle to hold the $100 level if China’s Covid situation deteriorates much further.”

Rate hikes are anathema to markets. The Fed first resorted to a in June as it applied its highest rate increase in 28 years to battle inflation expanding at its fastest in 40 years. Then, it appeared to be a “one or two time thing.”

But after the Labor Department’s last week showed U.S. employers added 372,000 jobs in June — some 100,000 more than economists expected — while keeping the at 3.6% for a third straight month, all bets for a Fed softening towards rates evaporated.

Record growth in jobs and wages has been identified as one of the reasons for the runaway inflation as employment security and higher disposable income allowed Americans to pay more for everything. 

Now, some economists think the Fed will use the 75-bps cudgel as many times as necessary to get ahead of price pressures. The central bank has four rate revision opportunities between this month and December.

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