Oil prices ends sharply lower as Red Sea worries fade


Oil futures ended lower Thursday as traders put worries over the potential for shipping disruptions in the Red Sea on the back burner, with the market failing to get a lift from data showing a drop in U.S. crude inventories last week.

Price action

  • West Texas Intermediate crude
    for February delivery

    fell $2.34, or 3.2%, to finish at $71.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

  • February Brent crude
    the global benchmark, declined $1.26, or 1.6%, to settle at $78.39 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. March Brent

    the most actively traded contract, dropped $2.39, or 3%, to $77.15 a barrel.

  • On Nymex, January gasoline
    dropped 3.2% to finish at $2.085 a gallon, while January heating oil
    declined 2.6% to $2.556 a gallon.

  • February natural gas
    jumped 4.9%, ending at $2.557 per million British thermal units.

Market drivers

Shipping company Maersk

on Wednesday said it had scheduled several dozen container ships to move through the Suez Canal and Red Sea in the coming days and weeks. Maersk and other shippers had previously rerouted ships away from the area after a series of drone and missile attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen following the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The U.S. last week announced the formation of a naval alliance to thwart the attacks, which had raised concerns about potential disruptions to oil shipments from the Middle East.

“Oil prices fell as global shipping giants prepared to resume navigation through the Red Sea despite ongoing missile attacks from Houthi rebels,” Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, said in a note. “The decision to resume operations reflects a calculated risk, betting on the success of a new multinational maritime task force, Prosperity Guardian, commissioned to safeguard the region.”

Renewed threats to Red Sea shipping lanes could reverse the selling seen over the last 24 hours, said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group, in a Thursday note.

Oil failed to get a sustained lift after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude inventories fell by 6.9 million barrels in the week ending Dec. 22. Gasoline inventories declined by 600,000 barrels, with distillate stocks up by 800,000 barrels.

Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Commodity Insight had, on average, expected a 3.5-million-barrel drop in crude inventories for the week ending Dec. 22. Gasoline supplies were anticipated to rise by 710,000 barrels, with distillates expected down 50,000 barrels.

The American Petroleum Institute late Wednesday reported that U.S. crude inventories rose 1.8 million barrels last week, according to a source citing the data.

The EIA also reported that natural gas in storage declined by 87 billion cubic feet in the week ending Dec. 22. Analysts surveyed by S&P Global Commodity Insights had forecast a withdrawal of 78 billion cubic feet.

Natural-gas futures were lifted after NOAA’s eight-to-14-day temperature outlook said below-average temperatures are expected for the southern half of the lower 48 states through Jan. 10, which should provide some strength to heating demand, Victoria Dircksen, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, said in a note.

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