Futures Movers: U.S. oil prices settle at a 6-week low as demand worries resurface

United States

Oil futures moved sharply lower Wednesday, with the U.S. crude benchmark settling at its lowest price in roughly six weeks as investors refocused on demand worries amid rising recession expectations.

Price action
  • West Texas Intermediate crude for August CL.1, -3.27% CLQ22, -3.27% fell $ 3.33, or 3%, to settle at $ 106.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after tapping a low of $ 101.53. Front-month contract prices logged their lowest settlement since May 12, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
  • August Brent crude BRNQ22, -0.30%   BRN00, -0.30%,  the global benchmark, fell $ 2.91, or 2.5%, to $ 111.74 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, for the lowest settlement since May 18.
  • Back on Nymex, July gasoline RBN22, +0.83% rose 1% to $ 3.8341 a gallon, while July heating oil  HON22, +0.45%  added 1.1% to $ 4.4046 a gallon.
  • July natural-gas futures  NGN22, +0.54% climbed 0.7% to $ 6.858 per million British thermal units.

Read: Energy investments not enough to solve energy crisis, IEA says

What’s driving the market?

Investors refocused on the potential for a recession in the U.S. and elsewhere that could crimp demand for energy products.

“Oil is lower on demand concerns, the prospect of a U.S. gasoline tax holiday, and renewed fears of a recession,” said Phillip Streible, chief market strategist at Blue Line Futures.

Meanwhile, Russia is “operating back near prepandemic levels with outflows to China and India gathering most of the oil,” he told MarketWatch. 

Read India tells oil companies to load up on discounted Russian crude: WSJ

As oil prices fell, U.S. benchmark stock indexes also declined before moving up on Wall Street Wednesday, where some strategists have warned that markets are not fully pricing in the possibility of an economic pullback.

“A persistent fall in oil prices will hint that the global recession fears are taking the upper hand, and weigh heavier than the positive factors such as a tight supply, prospects of Chinese reopening and booming travel,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, in emailed commentary.  

As widely expected, the White House on Wednesday called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months, and asked states to provide similar relief as consumers struggle with soaring prices in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Read: What a federal gas-tax holiday means for energy prices

Also see: Biden unlikely to get OK from Congress for gas tax holiday, analysts say

The federal government charges an 18 cent tax a gallon of gasoline and a 24 cent tax a gallon of diesel, and some see any moratorium having only a modest effect on prices. If the gas savings were fully passed along to consumers, that would amount to 3.6% saved at the pump when prices are averaging about $ 5 a gallon nationwide, said the Associated Press.

“Biden’s efforts have little impact,” said Swissquote’s Ozkardeskaya.

“The release of strategic reserves and improved relations with Saudi Arabia could hardly ease the price at the pump,” he said. “The federal gas tax holiday will probably remain ineffective as it won’t help an average SUV driver to save significantly, it won’t last beyond midterm elections and it may not even have a bipartisan approval as the gas contributes to the Highway Trust Fund, and suspending it would cut the flow to a critical infrastructure.”

Ozkardeskaya said the “best option is a recession-led demand shock to stop the rally to pull the [U.S.] price of a barrel below the $ 100 level, and ideally toward the $ 92, the 200-[day moving average].” 

Weekly U.S. petroleum supply data from the Energy Information Administration will be released on Thursday, delayed by a day this week due to Monday’s Juneteenth holiday.

U.S. crude supplies likely fell by 3.7 million barrels for the week ended June 17, according to a survey of analysts conducted by S&P Global Commodity Insights. The survey also showed expectations for weekly inventory gains of 500,000 barrels for gasoline and 600,000 barrels for distillates.