Monday, August 31, 2015

Oil Prices Fall on Profit-taking, Rate Hike Uncertainty

Oil prices fell in Asia on Monday as traders took profits, snapping gains last week that saw the biggest two-day rally in six years.

Brent crude futures for October delivery LCOc1 slipped more than $1, or 2 percent, before recovering although that still put the benchmark on track for its fourth straight monthly decline, having risen in only two of the past 14 months.

"There is definitely a lot of profit-taking going on," said Daniel Ang, an analyst at Singapore's Phillip Futures.

"There is some readjustment in the positions taken by traders."

The fall came after Brent climbed 10 percent last week, while U.S. crude finished the week up 12 percent.

Brent fell 76 cents to $49.29 per barrel as 0500 GMT after rising $2.49, or 5 percent, in the previous session. It fell more than $1 to $48.95 earlier in the session.

U.S. crude for October delivery CLc1 fell 63 cents to $44.59 per barrel after settling up $2.66, or 6.3 percent, in the previous session.

Mixed signals by U.S. financial policymakers last week on whether the U.S. Federal Reserve would raise interest rates next month was weighing on sentiment, Ang said.

Some Fed policymakers left the door open to a September interest rate hike at an annual central bankers meeting on Friday in comments that appeared to contradict those by the New York Fed president earlier in the week who said a rate increase seemed "less compelling".

The comment came after turmoil in global markets in recent weeks following China's currency devaluation and concerns over its slowing economy.

Investors are eyeing a slew of economic data, including key U.S. non-farm payroll data, later this week that could give direction on a possible U.S. rate hike when Fed policy makers meet on Sept. 16-17.

A rate hike is expected to support the U.S. dollar, making commodities including oil more expensive for users of other currencies.

"We believe that bearishness is still in play," Phillip Futures said in a note on Monday.

Prices could test technical support at $48.50 a barrel for Brent and $44 a barrel for U.S. crude.

"If prices hold above these levels, there is a chance that prices could move higher this week, which should hinge on optimistic non-farm payrolls," Phillip Futures said.

The market is also watching the outcome of planned United Nations-brokered talks later this week between Libya's warring factions aimed at forming a unity government.

Libya posted a budget deficit of 4.5 billion dinars ($3.3 billion) in the first seven months of 2015 as oil production fell and weak oil prices weighed, the Tripoli-based central bank said on Sunday.

(Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Richard Pullin and Gopakumar Warrier)

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