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Oil falls on weak demand outlook in US and China, Fed hedging

BEIJING - Oil prices fell on Monday, erasing gains from Friday as renewed concerns over waning demand in the United States and China, coupled with mixed signals from the U.S. Federal Reserve, dented market sentiment.

Brent crude futures for January were down 61 cents, or 0.75%, at $80.82 a barrel at 0800 GMT, while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for December were at $76.56, down 61 cents, or 0.79%.

Prices gained nearly 2% on Friday as Iraq voiced support for oil cuts by OPEC+, but lost about 4% for the week, notching their third weekly losses for the first time since May.

"Investors are more focused on slow demand in the United States and China while worries over the potential supply disruptions from the Israel-Hamas conflict have somewhat receded," said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, president of NS Trading, a unit of Nissan (OTC:NSANY) Securities.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said last week crude oil production in the United States this year will rise by slightly less than previously expected while demand will fall.

Next year, per capita U.S. gasoline consumption could fall to the lowest level in two decades, it said.

Markets were wary of potential U.S. policy tightening after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said last week that it could raise interest rates again if progress on curbing inflation stalls.

With financial conditions looser after a Friday jump in stock markets, "there is a good chance of more hawkish Fed speak this week," said Tony Sycamore, a market analyst at IG.

That is "not a prospect that crude oil will welcome given that recent data in China and the U.S. has brought growth fears back to the surface," he said.

Weak economic data last week from China, the world's biggest crude oil importer, increased fears of faltering demand.

China's consumer prices fell to pandemic-era lows in October, casting doubts on the strength of the country's economic recovery.

Additionally, refiners in China asked for less supply from Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, for December.

Still, Kikukawa said oil prices would be supported if WTI approaches $75 a barrel.

"If the market falls further, we will likely see support buying on expectations that Saudi Arabia and Russia would decide to continue their voluntary supply cuts after December," Kikukawa said.

Top oil exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia confirmed last week they would continue with their additional voluntary oil output cuts until the end of the year as concerns over demand and economic growth continue to drag on crude markets.

OPEC+, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, will meet on Nov. 26.

On the supply side, U.S. energy firms cut the number of oil rigs operating for a second week in a row to their lowest since January 2022, energy services firm Baker Hughes said. The rig count points to future output.

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