By Noah Browning
LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices edged higher on Friday but were set for a weekly decline due to mounting worries about the impact on fuel demand of a widespread resurgence in coronavirus infections, as well as some concern about the likely return of exports from Libya.
Brent crude <LCOc1> was up 30 cents at $42.24 a barrel by 0855 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude <CLc1> rose 23 cents to $40.54.
Brent is heading for a drop of nearly 2% this week with U.S. crude on track for a decline of around 1%. Both benchmarks are also heading for a monthly decline, which would be the first for Brent in six months.
“This month has not been kind to the oil market,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
“Rising virus infections, renewed lockdowns, slowing economic recovery and stalled U.S. stimulus talks have put the brakes on the fragile revival in fuel demand.”
In the United States, which has the highest death toll from the coronavirus pandemic and is the world’s biggest oil consumer, unemployment claims unexpectedly rose last week suggesting an economic recovery is flailing and pushing down fuel demand.
U.S. fuel demand remains in the doldrums as the pandemic constrains travel. The four-week average of gasoline demand last week was 9% below a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday.
In other parts of the world, daily increases of coronavirus infections are hitting records and new restrictions are being put in place that will likely limit travel and fuel demand.
In India, throughput by crude oil refiners in August fell 26.4% from a year ago, the most in four months, as fuel demand ebbed because surging coronavirus cases hindered industrial and transport activity.
(GRAPHIC: India’s crude processing, fuel demand: https://graphics.reuters.com/INDIA-REFINERY/OUTPUT/azgvoaaxjvd/chart.png)
In Libya, an oil tanker was loading a cargo on Thursday from one of three Libyan terminals that were reopened in recent days and more cargoes are expected to be lifted in the coming days.
However, analysts have questioned how quickly the country could ramp up supply.
“Fundamentally, nothing has changed to the supply side of the equation that is weighing on oil prices in the bigger picture,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
(Reporting by Noah Browning and Aaron Sheldrick; editing by Richard Pullin and David Evans)