Oil recoups last week’s loss on softer rate hike, stronger demand signals 

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com — The softening inflation game in the United States is helping oil bulls out, though rising crude prices on their own might ultimately lead to higher inflation.

New York-traded WTI, or West Texas Intermediate, crude for was up $1.39, or 1.8%, to $79.78 per barrel by 13:50 ET (18:50 GMT) after a session high at $79.85.  The U.S. crude benchmark was headed for an 8.2% gain on the week, after an 8.4% tumble last week.

London-traded Brent crude for was up $1.08, or 1.3%, to $85.11, after an intraday peak at $85.18. That put the global crude benchmark on track to an 8.3% rise this week, after last week’s drop of 8.5%.

Inflation, as indicated by the , or CPI, rose by 6.5% in the 12 months to December, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the slowest annual advance for the CPI since October 2021 and indicated smaller rate hikes ahead by the Federal Reserve, which raised rates aggressively last year to curb price pressures.

Adding to the Labor Department data, the University of Michigan’s closely-watched survey of consumers said on Friday that year-ahead among Americans has fallen for a fourth straight month in January, dipping to 4.0% from 4.4% in December. It was the lowest reading for price pressures since April 2021, the survey said.

The lower inflation readings are

bolstering expectations

that the Federal Reserve will keep to smaller rate hikes this year that would greatly assist businesses in the country, after the aggressive increases last year that sent tremors across markets. Those expectations have bolstered risk appetite in most forms this week, including in oil.

The Fed raised interest rates seven times last year, adding 425 basis points to rates which prior to that peaked at just 25 basis points, in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The central bank shocked markets by executing four back-to-back hikes of 75 basis points from June through November, before resorting to a modest in December. 

For its next rate decision on Feb. 1, economists expect the central bank to announce an even smaller hike of 25 basis points. The last time the Fed announced a 25 basis-point increase was in March 2022, at the start of its current rate hike cycle.

This week’s rebound in crude prices, coming after last week’s drop of more than 8% on both WTI and Brent that marked the worst annual debut in years for oil, could continue on the back of improving demand from China as the top energy importer tries to make a vigorous comeback from its own coronavirus crisis, some analysts said. 

Others said recent bids for crude by European buyers could lead to renewed upward price pressure in commodities, with oil being a key driver of inflation.

“Energy traders are starting to price in a little bit more crude demand coming out of Europe and not just China,” said Ed Moya, analyst at online trading platform OANDA. “The oil market is looking like it will remain tight.”

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