Futures Movers: Oil prices extend retreat amid Mideast calm

Oil futures on Thursday were swinging between small gains and losses, but were mostly steady, as traders digested data that revealed a big jump in crude stockpiles in the U.S., and as Mideast tensions saw some apparent easing.

“Oil traders that were positioning for a major war got taken out, and it did not help that the Energy Information Administration blindsided the market with a bearish report,” wrote Phil Flynn, senior market analyst Price Futures Group, in a Thursday note.

West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery CLG20, -0.49% on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $59.54 a barrel, after sinking 4.9% on Wednesday, marking the lowest finish for a most-active contract since Dec. 12, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

March Brent crude BRNH20, -0.52% lost 14 cents, or 0.2%, at $65.30 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following its lowest finish since Dec. 16 in the previous session.

Crude-oil prices fell sharply on Wednesday, after spiking in overnight trade, as comments from President Donald Trump calmed nerves surrounding a potential war with Iran. In a speech Wednesday, Trump said Iran “appears to be standing down” following missile strikes at U.S. military bases in Iraq.

“President Donald Trump speech on Wednesday that effectively ended the Iranian crisis…for now,” wrote Robert Yawger, director of energy at Mizuho Securities USA, in a Thursday note.

“We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” Trump said in his Wednesday speech.

Meanwhile, the New York Times (paywall), citing the Iranian news agency Tasnim, reported that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander has said Tehran would soon take “harsher revenge soon,” despite the signs of a detente from Trump after the Iraqi missile strike.

Still, the momentary calm in Mideast anxieties, which could have disrupted crude production in the oil-rich region, has anchored prices, market participants have said.

Adding to pressures for crude prices were inventory reports from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday, which showed supply increases of 9.1 million barrels for gasoline and 5.3 million barrels for distillates. The S&P Global Platts survey had shown expectations for a climb in supplies of 4.5 million barrels for gasoline and 5 million barrels for distillates.

Data showed U.S. crude supplies edged up by 1.2 million barrels for the week ended Jan. 3. That followed declines in each of the previous three weeks. Analysts polled by S&P Global Platts had forecast a decrease of 3.7 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a 5.95 million-barrel decline.