The discovery of a new coronavirus variant named Omicron triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa, and the equity and commodity markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered their most significant drop in more than a year. The World Health Organization said Omicron might spread more quickly than other forms of the virus, and preliminary evidence suggested an increased risk of reinfection.
Crude futures moved sharply lower on Friday as the markets weighed the impacts of new pandemic lockdowns in Europe and a stronger US dollar. WTI settled down $2.91 at $76.10, and Brent moved $2.35 lower to settle at $78.89. Oil demand in most major European economies continued to fall, as governments react to rising COVID-19 cases in most countries while supply chain disruptions continue to drag on activity.
Prices notched the longest stretch of weekly losses since March, with President Biden keeping investors guessing about whether he’ll act to tame higher energy prices that are driving a surge in inflation. Futures in New York fell 1% to close at $80.79 on Friday, and London closed at $82.17. Near the end of the session, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether Biden plans to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Biden has been weighing moves that include an SPR release to bring down the cost of gasoline at the pump.
The OPEC+ group of major producers agreed on Thursday to stick to their plan to raise oil output by 400,000 b/d from December, ignoring calls from President Biden for extra output to cool rising prices. This decision led to a price rebound on Friday, leaving Brent crude finishing the week at $82.74 a barrel. US WTI closed at $81.27. Following the OPEC+ announcement US Energy Secretary Granholm said President Biden is considering a release from the US’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as a possible move to reduce gasoline prices in the US. The SPR is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil and it currently holds around 600 million barrels.
Futures rose above $84 a barrel on Friday, within sight of a multi-year high hit last week. Expectations that OPEC and its allies will keep supply tight countered a weekly rise in US inventories and the prospect of more Iranian exports. Oil posted a monthly gain for October of 11% on signs that consumption is outpacing supply and declining stockpiles. New York futures closed at $83.57 and London at $83.72. Last month’s advance shows the impact of an ongoing shortage of natural gas, which has boosted demand for oil products. At the same time, rising margins signal that crude consumption will remain strong as refiners continue to process more oil to meet demand. That could mean that global oil stockpiles will continue to fall in the coming months.