Oil prices ease, focus shifts to next OPEC+ move

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: The Bryan Mound Strategic Petroleum Reserve is seen in an aerial photograph over Freeport, Texas

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) -Brent crude futures snapped a three-day rally on Friday in light trading before the Christmas holidays, but the benchmark ended the week higher, with the market focusing on next steps by OPEC+ and the impact of the Omicron variant.

Brent crude futures settled 71 cents lower at $76.14 a barrel at the early close of 1300 GMT, rising by about 3% on the week.

U.S. markets are closed on Friday for the Christmas holiday.

Oil prices have recovered this week as fears over the impact of the highly infectious Omicron variant on the global economy receded, with early data suggesting it causes a milder level of illness.

"The omicron-is-mild rally could well continue into January now, but reality will bite in February I believe, as the end of the Fed taper moves into sight," OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley said.

The U.S. Federal Reserve said last week it would end its pandemic-era bond purchases in March, paving the way for three interest rate increases that most Fed policymakers now believe will be needed next year.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, will meet on 4 January to decide whether to go ahead with a 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) production increase in February.

Russia believes oil prices are unlikely to change significantly next year with demand recovering to pre-pandemic levels only by the end of 2022, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday.

Some investors remained cautious amid surging infection cases.

Omicron advanced across the world on Thursday, with health experts warning the battle against the COVID-19 variant was far from over despite two drugmakers saying their vaccines protected against it and despite signs it carried a lower risk of hospitalisation.

Coronavirus infections have soared wherever the variant has spread, triggering new restrictions in many countries, including Italy and Greece, and record numbers of new cases.

Global oil demand roared back in 2021 as the world began to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and overall world consumption potentially could hit a new record in 2022 - despite efforts to bring down fossil fuel consumption to mitigate climate change.

(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in TOKYO. Editing by Jane Merriman, Kirsten Donovan)

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