Oil futures ended sharply higher Friday, continuing a bounce began the previous session after a sharp fall in U.S. crude and gasoline inventories, but were unable to fully erase a weekly loss as a spat between key OPEC members remained unresolved and worries mounted over the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that may slow energy demand in some countries.
Crude maintained gains in afternoon trade after oil-field-services company Baker Hughes said the number of U.S. oil rigs rose by 2 from last week to 378. Natural-gas rigs rose by 2 to 101.
“We would argue that the oil market has demonstrated a degree of relative resilience given the bearish headlines this week that centered on macro headwinds, concerns of the delta variant expansion, and a contentious OPEC meeting,” said Michael Tran, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, in a note.
The crude oil complex was lifted Thursday after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a larger-than-expected drop in U.S. crude inventories last week and a much larger-than-expected fall in gasoline supplies.
But upside remains limited, analysts said, by concerns over COVID-19 and the inability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies — a group known as OPEC+ — to come to an agreement on output levels.
Oil trading has been volatile after OPEC+ talks collapsed on Monday, derailing a proposal to ease existing output curbs in a controlled manner and allow production to rise by 400,000 barrels a day each month from August through December. The United Arab Emirates has blocked a deal, insisting that it should be allowed to raise the amount of crude it pumps under the initial agreement on production cuts.
Tran said weakness in crude oil prices reflected a desire by traders to defend profits amid a flurry of volatility,
“In other words, ‘Given the increased headline risk and directionless volatility, I’ll square my book and recalibrate my position to protect my strong YTD P&L (year-to-date profit and loss) until the demand growth story regains the narrative,’ is a popular view this week,” he wrote.