An easing of the crisis in Europe gave energy markets a firm tone last week that enabled crude oil futures to gain nearly 8% amid mixed economic news and some concerns about supply.
A strike at French oil refineries lifted prices to a five-week high Friday, with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate finishing the week at $79.81. The French strike threatened to limit U.S. imports of refined products from Europe.
Earlier in the week, the show of solidarity by European Union governments regarding fiscal problems in Greece and other countries in the eurozone, eased concerns about the crisis there and downward pressure on the euro.
A move Thursday by the Federal Reserve to raise the discount rate – the rate it charges banks for emergency loans – did however propel the dollar higher against the euro. News on Friday that the core inflation rate in the U.S. actually fell 0.1% in January – the first decline since 1982 – dispelled worries that the Fed would need to tighten further interest rates to combat inflation and led to a lower dollar on Friday.
The weak consumer price index and another weekly increase in jobless claims provided further evidence that U.S. economic recovery continues to be weak.
The weekly report on oil inventories, coming a day late because of the Monday holiday in the U.S., showed increases in crude oil and gasoline stocks but a bigger-than-expected drop in distillates, which includes heating oil. This news buoyed crude oil prices.
A coup in African oil producer Niger on Thursday added to some supply concerns at the end of the week to support higher crude oil prices.
Hedge funds and other speculative traders sharply increased their net long positions in crude oil futures in the week ending Feb. 16, according to trading data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, after having reduced them in the previous week.
Andrew Hall, the head of Phibro, is seeking new investors as he reorganizes his hedge fund operations in the wake of Phibro’s move from Citigroup to Occidental Petroleum. Hall, who specialises in energy trading, will manage the new Astenbeck Capital Management, named after a town in Germany where he owns a castle. According to the Financial Times, Astenbeck will take over management of two oil funds previously operating under Phibro’s aegis.
Hall was the energy trader who created a controversy while still working for Citi because of his $100 million bonus. The bonus was deemed politically unacceptable while the bank was receiving a taxpayer bailout and led to Citi selling Phibro to Oxy Pete.