Last Updated: March 12, 2018
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“Fed Fears” over accelerating US inflation and interest rate hikes gave way to “Tariff Tantrums” in the week of March 5-9 but the impact was similar: heightened volatility and a souring economic sentiment. That pressured stock markets around the world and unsettled the oil markets too.

US President Donald Trump Thursday signed an order imposing a hefty 25% tariff on steel imports into the country and a 10% tariff on aluminium imports. News of the impending levies had injected fresh volatility in the equity markets starting a week ago, raising the spectre of a global trade war that could derail the synchronous economic growth that has been propping up equities and commodities alike.

A last-minute exemption from the import tariffs granted to Canada and Mexico and a provision that would allow the US to let some other countries off the hook on a case-by-case basis, however, brought some relief towards the end of the week. As expected, that was buoying both stocks and crude futures through Friday.

But there were other factors bearing down on crude prices. A major annual oil industry event in Houston through the week, which attracted US independents, oil majors, OPEC ministers as well as top names in technology and oil service providers, pushed the prospect of shale renaissance to the top of the oil market’s collective consciousness.

Meanwhile, the US Energy Information Administration doubled down on its optimism over the country’s crude production growth. In its latest monthly energy outlook report, the EIA upped its predicted annual growth in 2018 US crude output to a strong 1.38 million b/d.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency was also in the optimists’ camp on US production. It forecast that oil production growth from the US, Brazil, Canada and Norway could keep the world well supplied through 2020, with the US alone satisfying 80% of the incremental demand.

Meanwhile, EIA data showing a second successive weekly rise in US crude stocks to March 2 — a build of around 2.41 million barrels — also heaped pressure on crude futures. WTI took a bigger battering than Brent, widening its discount to the latter to $3.55/barrel at Thursday’s market close, 40 cents more than at the start of the week.

A closure of Libya’s largest oil field Sharara last Sunday helped prop up crude prices Monday, but it did not last as the field was restarted within a day. Sharara, which had been pumping about 308,000 b/d of crude, was forced to shut after a local landowner closed a valve in protest against a pipeline serving the field polluting his land.

The US dollar had recouped some of its earlier losses as fears of a global trade war eased towards the end of the week, but remains a volatile agent ahead of the next US Federal Reserve policy meeting March 20-21, which is widely expected to raise interest rates.

The anxiety in the financial markets since February 2 has not completely died down. We expect continued volatility in the stock and bond markets, rippling into crude with a downside bias next week.

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