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Oil steadies after dipping on China outlook; investors await Fed clues

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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By Arathy Somasekhar

HOUSTON (Reuters) -Oil prices were steady on Monday as top oil executives debated supply tightness at an oil conference in Houston.

Oil market and logistics are tight and vulnerable to any unexpected supply disruption, as Russian oil is still getting to the market, but at different costs, oil major Chevron Corp Chief Executive Mike Wirth said at the CERAWeek energy conference.

Trading company Gunvor’s CEO Torbjorn Tornqvist said crude prices may rise in the second half of the year as Chinese demand returns to the market, adding that the oil market has stabilised.

Brent crude futures were trading up 1 cent, or 0.1%, at $85.84 a barrel by 12:00 p.m. ET (1700 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 32 cents, or 0.4%, at $80.01.

Both benchmarks had decline by more than $1 per barrel earlier in the session as China set a lower than expected target for economic growth this year at about 5%.

China’s closely watched growth outlook, announced on Sunday, was lower than last year’s 5.5% target for gross domestic product (GDP) growth. GDP grew last year by only 3%. Policy sources had told Reuters the target could be set as high as 6% for 2023.

Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday said the foundation for stable growth in China needed to be consolidated, that insufficient demand remained a pronounced problem and the expectations of private investors and businesses were unstable.

At the same time, oil prices are likely to be affected by increases to interest rates across the world as global central banks tighten policy over fears of rising inflation.

Investors awaited U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony this week. Traders have started factoring in rate hikes but are hoping for smaller increases than last year.

The Fed’s Powell will testify to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, when he is likely to be quizzed on whether larger increases are needed in the world’s biggest oil-consuming country.

Future U.S. rate hikes are also likely to depend on what the February payrolls report reveals on Friday, followed by the February inflation report next week.

Over the weekend, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said it was “very likely” the bank would raise interest rates this month to keep a lid on inflation.

(Reporting by Arathy Somasekhar in Houston, Additional reporting by Noah Browning in London, Mohi Narayan in New Delhi and Sudarshan Varadhan in SingaporeEditing by David Goodman and Marguerita Choy)