Oil Ends at Decade High as Specter of Russia Ban Rattles Market

Oil soared in Asia -- jumping as much as 18% early in the session.

Oil Ends at Decade High as Specter of Russia Ban Rattles Market
A fuel pump. (Photographer: Milan Jaros/Bloomberg)

Oil had its biggest daily swing ever, with Brent surging to nearly $140 after the U.S. said it was considering a ban on Russian petroleum imports.

The international benchmark subsequently pulled back to settle at the highest price since 2012. In New York, West Texas Intermediate closed at the highest in nearly 14 years. Prices from oil to nickel to wheat are surging to new highs, exacerbating fears of a major inflationary shock to the global economy.

Oil jumped at the market’s open on news the Biden administration is mulling whether to prohibit Russian oil imports without the participation of allies in Europe, at least initially, according to people familiar with the matter. Prices pared gains after Germany said it has no plans to halt Russian energy imports, bolstering the volatility in the market. Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian officials said talks between the two nations failed to yield results. 

“The U.S. is staring down the barrel of a supply crisis,” said Louise Dickson, Rystad Energy’s senior oil market analyst. An outright export ban on Russian crude from the U.S. and its allies could remove as much as 4 million barrels a day from the market, and participation from China and India would take out even more.

Surging oil prices and supply fears are also raising the price of fuels. Diesel futures in Europe and the U.S. touched the highest in decades. The so-called prompt spread for diesel on Europe’s Intercontinental Exchange surged to a record. U.S. gasoline futures also surged to the most on record in data going back to 2005. American pump prices are just 5 cents a gallon away from an all-time high set 14 years ago. 

Record prices of oil and other commodities are raising alarm bells everywhere. The International Monetary Fund over the weekend warned of severe consequences for the global economy. Major oil importers are starting to come under pressure, with the rupee among the biggest currency losers in Asia amid fears the Reserve Bank of India will have to raise its inflation forecast but have little scope to tighten monetary policy. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC over the weekend that the White House is in “very active discussions” with Europe about a ban to tighten the economic squeeze on Putin, but most buyers are refusing to take it anyway, resulting in an embargo in all but name.

Oil Ends at Decade High as Specter of Russia Ban Rattles Market

At one point Monday, Brent was up $21 as the market adjusted to the possibility of losing supplies from one of the world’s top three producers. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Brent could end the year at $185 a barrel if Russian shipments continue to be disrupted, while one hedge fund said even $200 was a possibility. 

“We have plenty of twists and turns to come,” Mike Muller, Vitol Group’s head of Asia, said Sunday on a podcast produced by Dubai-based consultant and publisher Gulf Intelligence. “While I think the world is already pricing in the fact there’ll be an inability to take in a serious amount of Russian oil in the Western Hemisphere, I don’t think we’ve priced in everything yet.”

Oil Ends at Decade High as Specter of Russia Ban Rattles Market
  • Brent for May settlement ended 4.3%  higher at $123.21 a barrel after rising to $139.13 earlier
    • The contract rose 21% last week
  • West Texas Intermediate for April settled up 3.2% at $119.40

Brent’s recent swings are eclipsing those seen during the global financial crisis of 2008 and the demand plunge sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Traders, shippers, insurers and banks have been increasingly wary of taking on or funding purchases of Russian barrels as they navigate international financial sanctions.

There are efforts underway to try to increase supply. Two senior U.S. officials met with members of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas to discuss global oil supplies and the country’s ties to Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Iran, meanwhile, made progress toward a deal with world powers over its nuclear program, which could pave the way for sanctions on Tehran’s oil to be lifted by the third quarter. 

More immediately, though, supply from some of the other biggest producers continues to be a worry. OPEC member Libya said its output fell below 1 million barrels a day because of a domestic political crisis. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies last week also decided to stay the course with only gradual output increases.

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