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Oil down almost 4%, surrendering war premium amid Fed focus


Investing.com - Crude prices tumbled almost 4% on Monday as the market looked beyond the war in the Middle East to focus on what the Federal Reserve might do or say at its interest rate decision on Wednesday.

Concerns over how U.S. jobs numbers for October will turn out on Friday also kept oil traders on the edge.

New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, crude for December delivery, settled at $82.31, down $3.23, or 3.8%.

The US crude benchmark has been in yo-yo mode for a week now, rising or falling more than 2% in a session, as the Israel-Hamas war raging on the Palestinian territory of Gaza had markets on the tenterhooks.

Last week, WTI finished down 3.6% and is due to finish October down almost 10% as things stand.

UK-origin Brent crude for December delivery settled at $87.45, down $3.03, or 3.4%. Last week, the global crude benchmark fell nearly 2%. It is on track to end October down 9%.

It would be remiss to say traders aren’t on the lookout for headlines on the war in the Middle East, after Israel launched at the weekend its much-anticipated ground assault on Gaza. Israeli troops and tanks attacked Gaza's main northern city from the east and west of the Palestinian enclave on Monday, Reuters reported.

No disruption to oil traffic in the Middle East

But without any disruption to the oil traffic moving in waters around the battle zone, it was hard to maintain a war premium risk for crude just on grounds of proximity, said those in the know.

"There is a propensity for market users in all their guises to have at least some oil length going into the weekends and when the fear of conflict spread shows no validation come the early hours of Monday mornings' openings, that fear hedge is ordinarily unwound," John Evans of oil broker PVM said in comments carried by Reuters.

CMC Markets (LON:CMCX) analyst Tina Teng concurred, saying:

"Despite an escalation in the Hamas-Israel war, the ground invasion was widely expected. The weekend playout signals no further expansion into a wider regional war, which caused a retreat in oil prices."

The Fed is widely expected to keep rates on hold this week. But officials have still kept the door open for one more rate hike this year, especially following several hotter-than-expected inflation readings.

The dollar steadied on Monday, retaining recent gains and weakening international demand for crude, which is priced in the US currency.

The key piece of economic data this week will, however, be Friday’s non-farm payrolls report for October. After a blockbuster 336,000 jobs were added in September, economists are expecting more moderate jobs growth of 182,000, which is still consistent with a robust labor market.

The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 3.8%, while wage growth is expected to ease to 4% year-on-year, which would mark a post-pandemic period low, and could help bolster the Fed’s view that price pressures are easing and that it doesn't need to raise interest rates any further, relieving pressure on economic activity in the largest oil consumer in the world.

Ahead of Friday’s data, market participants will be looking at data on third-quarter employment costs on Tuesday for signs that wage growth is moderating.

But before the Fed meeting, markets are also awaiting key purchasing managers index data from China, which is set to shed more light on business activity in the world’s biggest oil importer.

China’s economy has shown some signs of stabilizing in recent months after seeing a sharp decline in growth this year. The country’s aviation regulator recently said it will increase domestic flights to 34% above pre-pandemic levels- a positive sign for oil demand, although air travel still makes up a small portion of the China’s overall fuel consumption.

The Bank of Japan is also set to meet on Tuesday, with traders pricing in a potential policy shift in the bank as it grapples with rising inflation.

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