Oil prices rebounded early on Wednesday, recovering after two straight sessions of losses, as expectations of hawkish Federal Reserve talk later in the day and possible U.S. crude stock drawdowns outweighed China demand worries.
Brent futures firmed 23 cents to $76.13 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures inched up 26 cents to $71.45 a barrel as of 0611 GMT.
“We expect Fed Chair (Jerome) Powell to deliver a hawkish semi-annual testimony to Congress reflecting the FOMC’s median projection for higher interest rates in coming months and more resilient inflation in the near term,” ANZ Research said in a note, referring to the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee.
The congressional testimony by Powell later on Wednesday is expected to provide clues on future rate moves in the world’s biggest economy.
Two Fed policymakers and an economist nominated to join them on the central bank’s Washington-based board on Tuesday said their focus was on bringing down too-high inflation so that the U.S. economy could return to sustainable growth, which in turn could bolster oil demand.
A possible drawdown in U.S. crude stocks supported prices as well, with a Reuters poll among five analysts estimating that crude stockpiles fell by about 400,000 barrels on average in the week to June 16.
Official U.S. oil inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute industry group will be released later on Wednesday and from the Energy Information Administration on Thursday, with both reports delayed by a day following the Juneteenth public holiday on Monday.
A lack of clarity on the speed of demand recovery in China, the world’s top oil importer, limited price gains, although analysts were optimistic that lowered loan prime rates (LPR) could lift demand soon.
“The only reason why I think prices are not climbing steadily yet is because the data from China is still unclear. Yet, the stimulus is now in, and my bet is that it will be effective at reviving the economy, and with it, we will have strong second-half growth in demand,” said Rystad Energy research director Claudio Galimberti.
“As for the Fed meeting, that is also uncertain, but with the latest inflation data coming in at 4%, they have room to be dovish,” Galimberti added.
Looking to boost growth, China on Tuesday cut its benchmark LPR for the first time in 10 months, with a smaller-than-expected 10-basis-point reduction in the five-year LPR.
CMC Markets analyst Leon Li said the lower LPR was expected to lift demand in the second half.
“The Ministry of Commerce also plans to implement more policies to stimulate consumption,” he said. “The possibility of further lowering interest rates in the second half of the year cannot be ruled out.”