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Oil prices sink as US considers tapping reserves, stocks struggle

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Crude prices fell on reports US President Joe Biden was looking at releasing a million barrels a day for several months as he tries to temper a surge in the market to more than $100./AFP
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Mar 31, 2022 - 07:04 AM

HONG KONG, CHINA — Oil prices tumbled Thursday on reports that the United States is considering tapping its reserves to combat a supply crisis sparked by the Ukraine war.

However, equities struggled to build on the week’s rally after Russia poured cold water on hopes that ceasefire talks were progressing, leaving the prospect of a protracted war in eastern Europe that has already sent shockwaves through the world economy.

WTI tumbled more than five percent and Brent more than four percent as reports said President Joe Biden was looking at releasing a million barrels a day for several months as he tries to temper a surge in the market to more than $100.

Concerns about demand in China owing to a lockdown in Shanghai was adding to downward pressure.

The White House this month put an embargo on oil from Russia as part of a series of wide-ranging sanctions against the country for its invasion.

However, that sent prices soaring further and put added upward pressure on world inflation, which was already at multi-decade highs.

Officials said the president would make a statement Thursday on plans to cut energy costs “and lower gas prices at the pump for American families”.

The news comes as the International Energy Agency urges other countries to further tap their reserves.

A coordinated release earlier this year, before the war, did little to temper a rally in prices, which were being boosted by the global economic reopening and expectations for a pick-up in demand.

Meanwhile OPEC and other major producers including Russia are preparing for their monthly meeting later in the day where they are expected to refrain from lifting output by more than their planned 400,000 barrels, despite the growing energy crisis.

While the drop in oil prices will be welcomed on trading floors, Asian equity markets were mixed after three days of healthy gains and following comments from Russian officials playing down progress in talks with Ukraine over the ceasefire.

Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Wellington fell, though Sydney, Seoul, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta edged up.

Traders on Wednesday jumped on news that Moscow had pledged after negotiations in Istanbul to “radically” reduce its attacks.

Both sides initially said the gathering Tuesday had been productive but on Wednesday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We cannot state that there was anything too promising.”

Investors are awaiting the release Friday of US jobs data for an idea about the impact of soaring inflation and the war on the world’s top economy.

The reading could also be of particular importance regarding the Federal Reserve’s plans for monetary policy as it pivots to a more aggressive approach in a bid to staunch the surge in prices, which many fear will hammer growth.

Key figures around 0300 GMT 

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 5.2 percent at $102.20 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 4.2 percent at $108.65 per barrel

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 27,977.98 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.9 percent at 22,041.28

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,264.10

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1172 from $1.1162 late Wednesday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3127 from $1.3136

Euro/pound: UP at 85.11 pence from 84.93 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 122.11 yen from 121.79 yen

New York – DOW: DOWN 0.2 percent at 35,228.81 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.6 percent at 7,578.75 (close)

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