Oil prices fall as China's surging COVID-19 cases trigger clampdowns

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures dropped 53 cents, or 1%, to $52.60 a barrel

  
Image used for illustrative purpose only. Crude oil storage tanks are seen in an aerial photograph at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, U.S. April 21, 2020.

Image used for illustrative purpose only. Crude oil storage tanks are seen in an aerial photograph at the Cushing oil hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, U.S. April 21, 2020.

REUTERS/Drone Base

MELBOURNE/SINGAPORE - Oil prices dropped on Friday, retreating further from 11-month highs hit last week, weighed down by worries that new pandemic restrictions in China will curb fuel demand in the world's biggest oil importer.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures dropped 53 cents, or 1%, to $52.60 a barrel at 0445 GMT, after slipping 18 cents on Thursday.

Brent crude futures fell 45 cents, or 0.8%, to $55.65 a barrel, erasing a 2 cent gain on Thursday.

Recovering fuel demand in China underpinned market gains late last year while the United States and Europe lagged, but that source of support is fading as a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases has sparked new restrictions to contain the spread.

"Indeed, investors are struggling to see through short-term pain for long-term gain heading into the weekend as COVID case counts in China are the most significant demand concern for traders," Axi chief market strategist Stephen Innes said in a note.

The commercial hub of Shanghai reported its first locally transmitted cases in two months on Thursday, and Beijing is urging people not to travel during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, when tens of millions of urban workers typically head back to their villages. 

A seasonal boost to China's gasoline demand that is typically seen during the New Year holidays will be moderated by the tightened restrictions this year, consultancy FGE said in a note.

"We now have some data on vaccine rollouts, which show that acceptability is a bit on the low side, so pace of implementation may be slow... There may well be a bearish momentum developing (in oil markets)," said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.

The market is awaiting official oil inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Friday, after industry data on Wednesday showed a surprise 2.6 million barrel increase in U.S. crude inventories last week compared with analysts' forecasts for a 1.2 million barrel draw. 

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Koustav Samanta in Singapore; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa & Simon Cameron-Moore) ((koustav.samanta@thomsonreuters.com )( +65 6870 3503) (Reuters Messaging: koustav.samanta.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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