Oil steady as concern over Iran sanctions offset weak Chinese imports

Crude oil posted its worst monthly loss in two years in July

Crude oil posted its worst monthly loss in two years in July

Benchmark Brent crude oil futures on Tuesday were 1.5 percent higher at $74.80 a barrel.

The sanctions are already brewing a potential confrontation between the United States and Iran as Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, an important sea route through which tankers ship more than 30 per cent of crude oil to the worldwide market, in retaliation to the sanctions. It shipped out nearly 3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude in September, equivalent to around 3 percent of global demand.

Exports to Japan also surged to a seven-month high as refiners rushed to secure as many cargoes as possible before USA sanctions are re-applied. China companies too are interested to continue trading in Iranian oil and natural gas.

US crude oil producers appear to have found an alternative buyer for cargoes no longer heading to China, with India on track to import record volumes in August.

State-run refiner Indian Oil Corp., which had been buying USA crude in the spot market, signed a term tender to purchase American oil for delivery every month between November and January, according to Finance Director Arun Kumar Sharma.

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An Iranian newspaper reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a US plan to reduce Iran's oil exports to zero will not succeed. Traders are trying to establish a new balance point in the market.

U.S. sanctions against Iran, which shipped out nearly 3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude in July, officially came into effect at 12:01 a.m. U.S. Eastern time (0401 GMT) on Tuesday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning, showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories decreased by 1.4 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 407.4 million barrels.

"The market is supported by concerns the sanctions on Iran are going to reduce Iranian supply", said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi in Tokyo.

"Crude oil prices rose as the reality of United States sanctions on Iran weighed on sentiment".

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Oil inched up on Thursday, paring some of the previous day's steep price slide, after the first round of U.S. sanctions against Iran came into effect, although confidence in crude demand has been hit by the escalating China-U.S. trade dispute.

Iran is the third-largest producer among the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

"A full embargo seems unlikely and the oil market should remain well balanced in light of rising production and the emerging markets' fuel inflation pains", Norbert Rucker, head of macro and commodity research at bank Julius Baer, said. Gasoline inventories increased by 3.1 million barrels and distillate stockpiles rose by about 1.8 million barrels.

USA refined products exports climbed 174,000 b/d to 5.2 million b/d, although 351,000 b/d of that was residual fuel exports. That compares to its previous year's spot purchases of 6.6 million barrels from the shale producer.

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