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Oil Sinks as China Targets U.S. Crude With Tariffs in Trade War

Sheela Tobben
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Oil Sinks as China Targets U.S. Crude With Tariffs in Trade War

(Bloomberg) -- Crude slid to a two-week low after China announced tariffs on U.S. oil for the first time and U.S. President Donald Trump signaled he may escalate the trade war.

Futures dropped 2.1% in New York on Friday after China’s declaration of new levies on $75 billion of American oil and other goods. Trump tweeted Friday that he will respond to China’s tariffs in the afternoon. A meeting on trade took place around midday in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Last year, Beijing removed crude from a list of levied goods, signaling the importance of American oil in the global market. The decision to include it now shows how the trade spat has intensified, forcing Asia’s biggest economic power to use duties on the strategic commodity as ammunition.

“We appear to be moving further away from a resolution” to the trade dispute, Noah Barrett, an analyst at Janus Henderson Investors, said during a telephone interview. “Ultimately, this exacerbates fears of slowing economic growth and slowing oil-demand growth.”

Even before the tariffs were announced, Chinese orders for U.S. crude had been on the wane. The Asian nation’s refiners were the ninth-biggest destinations for American oil during the first five months of the year, down from third-largest in 2018.

“We see today’s move as a knee-jerk reaction lower driven by sentiment rather than fundamentals,” said Michael Tran, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

The latest dust-up between China and the Trump administration came as leaders from the Group of Seven nations prepared to meet in France and central bankers gather in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to discuss issues including fears of a global economic slowdown.

In a speech, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said “we’ve seen further evidence of a global slowdown” and would be watching developments for impact on the U.S.

New York-traded crude futures have dropped more than 7% this month as the protracted trade dispute fanned fears about stunted demand. U.S. factory data declined for the first time in a decade, while domestic fuel stockpiles increased this week, aggravating concerns about a potential glut.

West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery declined $1.18 to settle at $54.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Recession Risk

Brent for October delivery dropped 58 cents to end the session at $59.34 on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange. Its premium to WTI for the same month traded at $5.17 a barrel.

The Chinese tariffs will take effect in stages between Sept. 1 and mid-December, according to the announcement from the Ministry of Commerce. This mirrors the timetable the U.S. has laid out for 10% tariffs on nearly $300 billion of Chinese shipments.

While the U.S. isn’t among the biggest crude suppliers to China, America’s shale boom has made it one of the top producers in the world along with Saudi Arabia and Russia. At a time of OPEC output cuts, sanctions that are strangling supplies from Iran and Venezuela, and rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, the import-dependent Asian nation needs reliable crude imports to sustain economic growth.

“Escalating trade tension increases the risk of the world moving into recession,” said Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS Group AG in Zurich. “That could result in even lower oil demand next year, and an even more oversupplied oil market next year.”

--With assistance from Catherine Ngai, Grant Smith and Pratish Narayanan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sheela Tobben in New York at vtobben@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Carlos Caminada at ccaminada1@bloomberg.net, Joe Carroll, Catherine Traywick

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