Oil prices tumble to $95 a barrel, on Ukraine hopes, China lockdowns

Oil prices tumbled below $100 a barrel on Tuesday, to levels not seen since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago, as investors reassessed the huge run-up in prices seen in recent weeks.

Price action
  • West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery 
    CL.1,
    -7.62%

     
    CL00,
    -7.62%

    CLJ22,
    -7.62%

    fell 8.4% to $94.29 a barrel, which if continues would be the lowest settlement since Feb 25, according to FactSet Research. On Monday, the contract fell $6.32, or 5.8%, to settle at $103.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

  • May Brent crude 
    BRN00,
    -7.05%

    BRNK22,
    -7.05%
    ,
     the global benchmark, fell nearly $8, or 8.5% to $98.38 a barrel, on track for its weakest settlement since Feb. 28. On Monday, the contract fell 5.1%, to $106.90 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Last week, WTI pushed above $130 a barrel, and Brent neared $140 amid volatile trading conditions.

  • April natural gas 
    NGJ22,
    -2.47%

    fell 2.5% to $4.542 per million British thermal units.

  • April gasoline
    RBJ22,
    -5.82%

    dropped 7% to $2.941 a gallon and April heating
    HOJ22,
    -6.97%

    fell more than 6% to $3.065 a gallon.

Market drivers

Hopes for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine continued to weigh on oil prices Tuesday, along with COVID-19 lockdowns in China, pushing prices of both Brent and U.S. crude down to levels not seen in two weeks, noted Carsten Fritsch, analyst at Commerzbank, in a note to clients.

“What is more, one province in the northeast of China has issued a ban on travel, which is unlikely to leave oil demand in China unscathed. In addition, India has said that it is willing to buy Russian oil, which has become considerably cheaper because Western buyers are refusing to purchase it,” he said.

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were set to continue after no breakthrough was reached on Monday, as Russian forces continued to pound Ukraine. Apart from the humanitarian catastrophe, the conflict has sparked concerns over global economic growth and sent commodities prices surging across the board.

Adding to growth worries, China’s southeastern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has been locked down due to a COVID outbreak, in addition to a COVID lockdown in the northeast of the country.

Oil prices slid Monday’s losses on reports the U.S. could lift sanctions on Venezuelan oil which could ease some supply worries as the war between Ukraine and Russia stretches to a third week.

“The downside correction in oil prices is sure a relief when it comes to the inflation expectations, but the new lockdown measures [in China] will continue worsening the supply chain crisis and add on the inflation worries,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, in a note to clients.

Fresh data Tuesday showed China’s economic activity rebounded strongly in the first two months of the year, despite a high base of comparison a year earlier.

Meanwhile, data showed hedge-fund managers “slashed net-bullish Brent oil bets to their lowest levels on record,” noted Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade. “The retreat demonstrates that significant swings in the oil market were part of a broad-based liquidation of positions, with speculators closing out long contracts in WTI, diesel, and gasoline futures.”

“According to ICE, the fall in Brent was fueled by the largest drop in outright bullish bets since 2018,” he said.