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Oil prices edge higher but temper by China COVID surge

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Oil prices inched higher on Tuesday, supported by a softer dollar and a U.S. plan to restock petroleum reserves, but gains were capped by uncertainty over the impact of rising COVID-19 cases in top oil importer China.

Brent crude futures were up 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $79.95 a barrel at 0710 GMT, adding to a 76 cent gain in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 32 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $75.51 a barrel, after climbing 90 cents in the previous session.

Both contracts rose by more than $1 earlier in the session.

Oil prices have been buoyed by a U.S. plan announced last week to buy up to 3 million barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve following this year’s record release of 180 million barrels from the stock.

A weaker greenback has also supported prices, making oil cheaper for those holding other currencies.

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However, analysts said clear signs of growing demand were needed for prices to climb further.

“The oil demand outlook will be key for how high crude prices can go and that might struggle for clarity as we see mixed signals with China’s reopening,” OANDA analyst Edward Moya said in a note.

While China has been relaxing pandemic restrictions, the surge in COVID-19 cases has been bearish for oil markets due to uncertainty about the country’s economic recovery, said analyst Tina Teng at CMC Markets.

Cities across the country have been racing to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinics amid growing international concern that Beijing’s decision to dismantle its stringent “zero-COVID” regime will lead to possible deaths, virus mutations and economic impact.

“Crude’s gains, although moderate, feel tentative. I expect downward pressure from global economic concerns to prevail,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights in Singapore.

U.S. crude oil stocks were expected to have dropped last week by about 200,000 barrels, while gasoline and distillates inventories were seen higher, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.

The poll was conducted ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday, and the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, due on Wednesday.

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