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Oil Prices Stumble on Fears of Falling Demand

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06/12/2019 | 10:39am EDT

By David Hodari

Oil prices dropped sharply Wednesday as investors signaled their worries over sagging demand and a burgeoning U.S. supply glut.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down 1.9% at $60.10 a barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures fell 2.2% to $52.10 a barrel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday lowered its forecast for global oil-demand growth in 2019 to 1.2 million barrels a day, a 14% cut from the prior month's forecast, playing into persistent worries about the health of global economic growth.

Those concerns have been partly driven by the trade conflict between the U.S. and China -- and fears about its impact on oil demand -- and have stung commodities and equities markets in recent months. Brent crude has sold off around 13% in the past month, while WTI futures are down roughly 15%.

Weakening economic figures out of China have prompted its government to issue waves of stimulus measures, with the latest coming this week. Still, oil markets have shrugged off Beijing's attempts to support the economy.

"I'm puzzled the stimulus measures didn't cause the usual positive and it's that growth pessimism that continues to pressure oil," said Norbert Rücker, head of commodities research at Julius Baer.

Sagging demand has prompted unseasonable builds in inventories. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, reported Tuesday that U.S. crude supplies climbed by roughly 4.9 million barrels for the week ended June 7, according to sources.

Wednesday's price drop was partly "a reaction to those pretty bearish numbers from the API," said Warren Patterson, commodities strategist at ING. "The market was expecting a million barrel drawdown but instead got a more-than-four-million-barrel build."

While steep declines have calmed in recent sessions, Wednesday's drop brought oil prices back to the bottom of their recent price range.

After Tuesday's API figures, the U.S. Energy Information Administration's weekly inventory report, due Wednesday, will be closely watched. Supply data have been bearish in recent weeks, prompting swings in oil prices and confusion among traders.

"Knowing this market, I wouldn't be surprised to see the [Energy Department] data come out bullish," said Edward Marshall, commodities trader at Global Risk Management.

A larger-than-expected build in EIA inventories would likely accelerate oil's selloff, though.

"It's just noise at the moment, but if Brent broke down toward $57 a barrel, it would be significant," Mr. Marshall said.

Oil prices could receive a further jolt in the coming weeks, with signals out of major producing nations increasingly divergent ahead of a summit between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies in Vienna due at the end of June.

Comments from Saudi officials this week have suggested participants were close to agreeing on an extension to the continuing OPEC+ production cuts, but remarks from individuals in the Russian oil market have contradicted that.

With question marks hanging over the date of the conference, "when they do have the meeting, we could see some pretty tough negotiations," said ING's Mr. Patterson.

"A scenario when they don't extend cuts is not going to be pretty," he added.

--Ira Iosebashvili contributed to this article.

Write to David Hodari at David.Hodari@dowjones.com

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