Oil prices were stable on Friday, as the market balanced a fall in U.S. crude inventories to the lowest levels since 2015, with Sino-American trade tensions and economic weakness from emerging markets.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $67.79 per barrel at 0303 GMT, up just 2 cents from their last settlement.
International Brent crude futures dipped 4 cents to $76.46 a barrel.
“Oil inventory data released last night showed a larger-than-expected draw in crude inventories,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia’s Rivkin Securities.
U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell by 4.3 million barrels to 401.49 million barrels <C-STK-T-EIA> in the week to Aug. 31, the lowest since February 2015, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed on Thursday.
Despite that, analysts said prices were curbed by a rise in refined product stocks and a relatively weak U.S. peak fuel consumption season this summer.
Gasoline stocks rose by 1.8 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, climbed by 3.1 million barrels, the EIA data showed.
“Gasoline and distillates inventories both rose substantially. The U.S. summer driving season has proven to be a lackluster one in terms of gasoline demand,” said O’Loughlin.
Ongoing emerging market weakness as well as potential new U.S. import tariffs on Chinese goods were also weighing on oil market sentiment, traders said.
Asian shares slipped to a 14-month trough on Friday as investors feared a new round of Sino-U.S. tariffs, while currencies from Indonesia to India also remained under pressure.
On the supply side, U.S. crude oil production <C-OUT-T-EIA> last week remained at a record 11 million barrels per day (bpd), a level it has largely been at since July.
Outside the United States, U.S. sanctions against major oil producer Iran, which from November will target oil exports, are fueling expectations of a tighter market towards the end of the year.
“The main driver of oil prices, in our view, remains the re-imposition of U.S. ... sanctions against consumers of Iranian oil,” said Standard Chartered this week.
“There is still considerable uncertainty over the strategies of China and India, Iran’s main customers,” it added.
Washington has indicated it may offer temporary sanctions waivers to allied countries that are unable to immediately cease imports from Iran.