Oil rises 3% with landmark global release from reserves smaller than expected

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Oil prices climbed on Tuesday (Nov 23) as a landmark coordinated move by the United States and other consumer nations to tap their strategic oil reserves was less severe than markets expected.

While the headline size of the US release is large, a significant chunk of the crude will be borrowed – to be returned later – leaving traders expecting tighter balances down the line. The US is making the move in concert with China, Japan, India, South Korea and the UK.

Brent futures rose US$2.61, or 3.3 per cent, to settle at US$82.31, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose US$1.75, or 2.3 per cent, to settle at US$78.50.

That was the biggest daily percentage gain for Brent since August and its highest close since Nov 16. It also pushed Brent’s premium over WTI to its highest since mid-October.

Oil prices have hit multiyear highs in recent months amid a global energy crisis that’s added hundreds of thousands of barrels a day to consumption, while the world economy is grappling with surging inflation. The decision puts major consumers on a collision course with Opec+, which views such a release as unjustified and may reconsider plans to add more supply at a meeting on Dec 2.

“From Opec’s perspective, a cautious ramp-up is still the way to go,” said Damien Courvalin, the head of energy research at Goldman Sachs Group in a Bloomberg Television interview on Tuesday (Nov 23). “Opec has no incentive to increase production aggressively and the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) release probably comforts them.”

The main announcements so far are:

• US: 50 million barrels, 18 million of which are accelerated pre-approved sales while the remaining 32 million are part of an exchange

• India: 5 million barrels

• Japan: Several days worth of volume, according to local media

• China: At least 7.33 million barrels, according to industry consultant JLC

• South Korea: Said it would release an unspecified volume

• UK: 1.5 million barrels

“The added supply to the market is pretty small in the grand scheme of things,” said Rob Thummel, a portfolio manager at Tortoise, a firm that manages roughly US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion) in energy-related assets. “Clearly, the oil price was expecting something bigger than this.”

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Despite Tuesday’s rally, crude prices have dropped close to US$10 from earlier this month as the US signaled it may tap its reserves.

In a press conference addressing inflation, US President Biden said that it is unacceptable for gasoline supply companies to pocket the profit instead of passing on savings to consumers. Biden reiterated that his administration will do what is necessary to lower gasoline prices, without specifying steps.

“While our combined actions will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight, it will make a difference,” said Mr Biden. “It will take time, but before long you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank.”

When asked about the potential for a US export ban in the future, the administration suggested that all options are on the table.

RBC Capital Markets says the US believes it has the ability to release more oil from its reserves if prices rise further. The Biden administration wants to keep prices below US$80 “and believe they have the ability to do another release of a similar magnitude,” RBC analysts, including Helima Croft, wrote in a report on Tuesday.

Focus will now turn to how the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies will react to the release when they gather next week. Speaking before the reserve releases were announced, the United Arab Emirates said there was no need for Opec+ to increase oil production any faster, despite pressure from major consumers.

Meanwhile, the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute reported on Tuesday that US crude supplies rose 2.31 million barrels last week, according to people familiar with the data. The data also showed stockpiles in Cushing, Oklahoma, the biggest storage hub in the US, increased by about 915,000 barrels. The US government will release its weekly inventory tally on Wednesday.

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