SINGAPORE — Brent crude edged lower towards $119 per barrel yesterday as economic woes in developed economies stoked fears of lower fuel demand, although the prospect of a third round of monetary easing by the United States limited its decline.
US economic growth cooled in the first quarter, raising expectations the Federal Reserve could start a third round of government bond buying, or quantitative easing known in markets as QE3, to support the economy.
Such a move would increase market liquidity and heighten risk appetite for commodities.
Brent June crude was down 22 cents to $119,61 per barrel after gaining nearly 1% last week. US June crude was at $104,80 per barrel, down 13 cents.
Trading in Asia is likely to be subdued, with Japan and China closed for a public holiday.
“If growth in the US is going to be weaker than the Fed and the market expect, then the Fed will have to act,” said Jeremy Friesen, a commodities strategist at Societe Generale.
While last Friday’s US growth data was not weak enough to spur the Fed into another round of bond buying, it kept expectations for QE3 alive, analysts said.
Investors will scour US employment data this Friday for a better read on the health of the world’s largest economy.
The US dollar stayed at multi-week lows against the euro and yen on the possibility of more stimulus.
A weaker greenback can be supportive to dollar-denominated oil by making it less expensive to consumers using other currencies.
Europe’s debt woes continued to spook investors as some economies in the region returned to recession, while data on Friday underscored Spain’s economic plight, with nearly a quarter of its work force unemployed.
“We’re going through the worst patch now as reforms start to take effect,” Friesen said.
Speculator positioning in US crude oil futures and options was mixed in the week to April 24, CFTC data showed on Friday, with traders cutting their positions on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but raising them in London.
Yet expectations for better economic growth in the second half of the year, and tighter oil supplies due to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa and production disruption in the North Sea, could lift oil prices, analysts said.
“The global economy will have a stronger second half as central banks will have no alternative but to stimulate growth,” Friesen said, adding that tighter sanctions on Iran would curb supplies.
Seasonal demand for gasoline and diesel was expected to pick up from mid-May, while refineries would emerge from maintenance, he said.
The US was expected to press ahead with sanctions on Opec’s second-largest producer Iran as global oil inventories grew in the past two months, analysts said.
World oil and motor fuel supplies exceeded demand by 500 000 barrels per day in March and April, the Energy Information Administration said, allowing consumer countries to build cushions against potential losses from US and EU measures against Iran.