LONDON- Oil prices steadied above $75 a barrel in choppy trade on Wednesday, taking a breather after strong gains earlier this week, as investors assessed the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the global economy and fuel demand.
Brent crude futures were down 27 cents, or 0.4%, to $75.17 a barrel at 1426 GMT, after earlier rising by nearly $1.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $71.63 a barrel, down 42 cents or 0.6%, having risen to $72.79 earlier in the session.
After falling by more than 16% since Nov. 25 to around $69 a barrel, Brent crude prices have rebounded by over 9% since Dec. 1 on signs Omicron has had only a limited impact on oil demand.
"Around two-thirds of the previous price slide (has) been corrected, a downswing that had been brought about by demand concerns sparked by the new Omicron variant. These now appear to be exaggerated," Commerzbank said in a note.
"There has been no noticeable slowing effect on oil demand as yet. Even aviation, the sector that should have been hit first, has seen only a marginal decrease in seating capacity."
But reports that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to tighten COVID restrictions, including advice to work from home, revived fears of a slowdown in activity.
The market was also focused on rising geopolitical tensions as talks between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear programme were set to resume this week with Western officials voicing dismay at sweeping Iranian demands.
An easing of U.S. sanctions is expected to lead to higher exports of Iranian oil, which could add downward pressure on oil prices.
Meanwhile, tensions between Western powers and Russia over Ukraine also remained high after President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the West would impose "strong economic and other measures" on Russia if it invades Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward.
Oil markets reacted little to U.S. weekly inventory data.
U.S. crude stocks fell last week while gasoline and distillate inventories rose, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday.
Analysts polled by Reuters forecast U.S. crude inventory data would show a second straight weekly decline.
(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa, Jason Neely and Mark Heinrich) ((Ron Bousso email: email@example.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/ronbousso1 Tel.: +44 (0)207 542 2161 Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))