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Analysis-Russian oil flows through Red Sea still face lower risks

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Analysis-Russian oil flows through Red Sea still face lower risks
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A tanker crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal, in El Ain El Sokhna in Suez, Egypt, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

By Natalie Grover, Robert Harvey and Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Tankers carrying Russian oil have continued sailing through the Red Sea largely uninterrupted by Houthi attacks on shipping and face lower risks than competitors, according to shipping executives, analysts and flows data.

Russia has become more dependent on trade through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea since it invaded Ukraine, which led to Europe imposing sanctions on Russian imports and forced Moscow to export most of its crude to China and India. Before the war, Russia exported more to Europe.

The number of Russian ships passing through the Red Sea has registered a slight decline since December, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa, but traffic last week was still around 20% higher than on average in 2023.

That contrasted to more extensive disruptions overall to oil tanker sailings through the Red Sea in the past two weeks.

Shipments of diesel and jet fuel from the Middle East and Asia to Europe – one of the major east-to-west oil trade routes – nearly came to a halt in the days following the first round of U.S.-led retaliatory strikes on Yemen on Jan. 11, Vortexa data show.

Russia has close ties to Iran, which backs the Houthis, and that may have helped prevent attacks.

Ships carrying Russian oil for the most part have no links to Israel, the United States or Britain. The Houthis have said they are targeting ships connected to those countries in attacks to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

G7 sanctions on Russia’s oil trade over the Ukraine war contributed to rapid growth in the shadow fleet of vessels transporting sanctioned crude and fuel. Those vessels are leased by companies typically registered outside countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. They also use maritime services and insurance from countries that do not impose sanctions.

With fewer clear connections to Western companies, those vessels are less likely to be a target.

“Most Russian crude and fuel is transported by the shadow fleet, so its unlikely going to be in the crosshairs of Houthi attacks,” said veteran oil trader Adi Imsirovic.

“The Houthis are targeting ships linked to certain countries.”

Many vessels carrying Russian cargoes are indicating they are not tied to Israel via signals from automatic identification systems (AIS) – which publicly broadcast information including a vessel’s position and destination, Vortexa analyst Mary Melton said.

Russia, a partner to key Arab powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in addition to its ties with Iran, has condemned what it called the ‘irresponsible’ strikes.

Chinese officials have put pressure on Iran to rein in attacks on ships in the Red Sea and ensure those attacks do not hurt Chinese interests, Iranian sources and a diplomat told Reuters last week.


A Houthi attack late last week on a tanker carrying fuel which originally loaded in Russia was unlikely to impact wider Russian trade flows as that specific vessel was targeted because it had ties to British and American companies, Vortexa’s Melton said.

“The tanker had ties to both US and UK based corporate entities, so other vessels carrying Russian cargoes without these ties do not face a similar risk,” she said.

The attacked tanker Marlin Luanda is owned by Oceonix Services, a company registered in the UK to a London address, according to data from another tracking firm Kpler.

Global commodities trader Trafigura, which owned the cargo, said it was assessing the security risks of further Red Sea voyages.

Four tankers carrying Russian Urals crude passed through the Bab-el-Mandab strait with another three heading south through the Red Sea since the attack on the Trafigura vessel on Jan. 26, Kpler data show.

The flow of Russian oil should continue provided it makes economic sense and insurance cover can be procured given the level of demand from India and China, Ian Wilkinson, VP of sales excellence at Inchcape (OTC:) Shipping Services told Reuters.

Western tankers, however, will likely re-route away from the Red Sea and sail around the Cape of Good Hope, said Shefali Shokeen, a lead shipping analyst with a Dubai-based shipowner.

Either way, shippers are facing higher costs. In the Red Sea, shipowners are charging higher freight rates and crew fees, and war risk insurance premiums have surged.

Crew fees have doubled, while war risk premiums now amount to around 1% of the value of a ship, versus 0.5% about 10 days ago, excluding discounts, according to industry sources.

For instance, costs to charter 1 million barrel-capacity Suezmax ships to send Iraqi oil to Mediterranean refineries have climbed by $2.50-$3.50 a barrel for freight, while insurance has roughly tripled to between 10 and 15 cents a barrel, according to a trader with a European refiner.

The alternative route via the Cape of Good Hope adds two to three weeks to sailing time and an extra 3,300 nautical miles in fuel consumption, in addition to emissions taxes for those owned by or calling at EU states.


Gold prices muted as rate fears keep traders to the sidelines

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Gold prices muted as rate fears keep traders to the sidelines
© Reuters.– Gold prices moved in a flat-to-low range on Wednesday, extending their recent run of muted performance as anxiety over higher-for-longer U.S. interest rates persisted ahead of key economic readings.

The yellow metal remained squarely within a $2,000 to $2,050 trading range established over the past month, as any upside in gold was largely limited by a string of Federal Reserve warnings that the bank was in no hurry to begin trimming rates early in 2024. Strength in the , which remained near three-month highs, also pressured gold prices.

Still, gold prices also remained firm above the key $2,000 an ounce support level, indicating that fears of a global economic slowdown and geopolitical tensions in Russia and the Middle East were feeding some safe haven demand for the yellow metal.

steadied at $2,030.69 an ounce, while expiring in April fell 0.2% to $2,039.45 an ounce by 00:20 ET (05:20 GMT). 

PCE inflation, GDP data awaited for more cues

Markets were now awaiting key inflation and economic growth readings for more trading cues.

data- the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge- is due on Thursday, and is expected to show inflation remained sticky in January. Such a scenario gives the Fed more impetus to keep interest rates higher for longer.

Several Fed officials also warned this week that sticky inflation will keep the Fed from lowering interest rates early in 2024. 

Before the inflation data, a second reading on fourth-quarter is due later on Wednesday, and is expected to show some cooling in economic growth.

But the U.S. economy is still expected to remain well ahead of its developed world peers, giving the Fed enough headroom to keep rates higher for longer. 

Higher rates herald more pressure on gold, given that they increase the opportunity cost of buying bullion. Other precious metals also retreated on this notion, with falling 0.5% to $892.05 an ounce, while fell 0.7% to $22.602 an ounce on Wednesday. 

Copper prices dip, China PMIs awaited      

Among industrial metals, expiring in March fell 0.4% to $3.8390 a pound. 

The red metal saw a strong run-up in recent weeks on optimism over more stimulus measures in top importer China.

But this rally will be tested on Friday with the release of closely-watched data from the country, which is expected to provide more cues on the state of business activity through February. 

Readings for January showed little improvement in the economy.

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Oil rises more than $1/bbl as OPEC+ mulls extending output cuts

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Oil rises more than $1/bbl as OPEC+ mulls extending output cuts
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Oil rig pumpjacks, also known as thirsty birds, extract crude from the Wilmington Field oil deposits area near Long Beach, California July 30, 2013. REUTERS/David McNew//File Photo

By Arathy Somasekhar

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose more than $1 a barrel on Tuesday as sources said OPEC+ is considering extending voluntary oil output cuts into the second quarter to provide additional support.

futures rose $1.12, or 1.4%, to $83.65 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures (WTI) were up $1.29, or 1.7%, at $78.87.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, known as OPEC+, agreed in November to voluntary cuts totalling about 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) for the first quarter this year, led by Saudi Arabia rolling over its own voluntary cut.

The producer group could keep the additional cuts in place until the end of the year, two of the sources told Reuters.

“We are going to see some tight supplies down the road,” said Dennis Kissler, senior vice president of trading at BOK Financial.

“OPEC is looking for mid-$80s, may be around $85 a barrel on Brent. If we stay below that, they will curtail production all the way to the year end,” Kissler added.

Also supporting prices on the supply side, Israel and Hamas, as well as Qatari mediators, all sounded notes of caution about progress towards a truce in Gaza, after U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed a ceasefire could be reached in under a week to halt the war for Ramadan.

Yemen’s Houthi spokesperson said the group’s operations in the Red Sea would stop only when Israeli “aggression” against Gaza ends. Houthi missile and drone attacks on international shipping have driven up the cost of transporting energy products and contributed to a tighter market.

In the U.S., crude inventories were expected to have risen about 2.7 million barrels last week, while distillates and gasoline stockpiles were seen falling, a Reuters poll showed.

The American Petroleum Institute will release the industry group’s weekly inventories data at 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT), followed by the government’s report on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the 3-2-1 U.S. refinery crack spread , a proxy for refining margins, rose to their highest in more than five months. The surge suggests increased profitability for refineries amidst robust consumer demand for petroleum products.

Markets expect to see some improvement in Chinese oil demand as improving travel demand over the Lunar New Year holiday outweighed worries of slowing macro-economic indicators.

Russian authorities announced a six-month ban on gasoline exports from March 1 to compensate for rising demand and to allow for refinery maintenance.

Global crude oil markets were expected to be fairly stable this year at around $80 a barrel, Russel Hardy, CEO of oil and gas trader Vitol, said.

Speaking at the Energy Institute conference, Hardy also said global oil demand was expected to peak in the early 2030s.

Both oil benchmarks had settled more than 1% higher on Monday after declines of 2-3% over the previous week as markets factored in a greater likelihood that cuts to interest rates might take longer to come than previously expected.

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Oil falls 1% on Fed rate cut caution and stocks build

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Oil falls 1% on Fed rate cut caution and stocks build
© Reuters. Oil, miniatures of oil barrels and U.S. dollar banknote are seen in this illustration taken, June 6, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Files

By Paul Carsten

LONDON (Reuters) -Oil prices pulled back on Wednesday as the prospect of delays to U.S. interest rate cuts and a jump in stocks that trounced expectations offset a boost from a potential extension to OPEC+ supply curbs.

futures fell 76 cents, or 0.91%, to $82.89 a barrel by 1227 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures (WTI) were down 83 cents, or 1.05%, at $78.04. Both benchmarks had fallen $1 in earlier trading.

Vandana Hari, founder of oil market analysis provider Vanda (NASDAQ:) Insights, attributed the price falls to profit-taking plus a combined response to a surge in U.S. crude stocks and continuing hopes of a Gaza ceasefire deal in coming days.

U.S. crude stocks showed an 8.43 million barrel build in the week ended Feb. 23, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute (API) figures on Tuesday. 

That shattered expectations of a 1.8 million barrel build, according to analysts polled by Reuters on Monday.

Federal Reserve Governor Michelle Bowman had signalled on Tuesday that she was in no rush to cut U.S. interest rates, particularly given continuing inflation risks. Higher-for-longer rates could dampen economic growth and suppress demand for oil.

Due Thursday is the January U.S. personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and a key factor in rate decisions.

“The power of inflationary expectations must not be underestimated,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM in a note on Wednesday. “In case tomorrow’s U.S. PCE reading comes in above expectations, a temporary top might have been found” for oil.

Brent and WTI futures rose more than $1 a barrel on Tuesday after Reuters reported that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia (OPEC+) will consider extending voluntary oil output cuts into the second quarter. 

Analysts at ANZ Research said that such a move by OPEC+ would be likely to tighten the market.

Russian authorities on Tuesday announced a six-month ban on gasoline exports from March 1 to compensate for rising demand from consumers and farmers and to allow for planned refinery maintenance.

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