By Adedapo Adesanya
Oil prices returned to the bullish territory on Monday after a heavy price crash last Friday amid fears over the threat to demand triggered by the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The international benchmark, Brent crude futures, gained $1.02 or 1.39 per cent to trade at $74.46 per barrel, while the United States’ benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, gained 89 cents or 1.27 per cent to sell at $70.84 per barrel.
Last week, the market panicked over Omicron, the new heavily mutated coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, dropping more than 10 per cent over fears sparked by what the global health authority – the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified as a “variant of concern.”
However, Monday breathed a fresh air of relief as traders, investors, and speculators awaited scientific evidence of whether Omicron should be as feared as the oil market appeared to fear at the preceding session.
WHO declared on Sunday that it was not clear yet if Omicron was more transmissible or if infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.
The market also found support when the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies (OPEC+) said there was no panic about the new variant.
Russia and Saudi Arabia, who lead the coalition, signalled there was no need for OPEC+ to race to adjust oil output policy this week.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak was quoted as saying that he sees no need for urgent action on the oil market over Omicron, downplaying the possibility of changes to an OPEC+ oil supply deal this week.
“There is no need for hasty decisions,” he was quoted as saying, adding “We will additionally discuss with the OPEC+ countries the market situation and if any measures are warranted,” Mr Novak said.
On his part, the Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud said he was not worried about the Omicron, but declined to comment on OPEC+ plans.
OPEC+ will hold online meetings this week to decide on oil production policy.
The group has been reducing its curbs on output by 400,000 barrels per day of oil per month as it winds down record cuts from last year when it cut production by as much as 10 million bpd to address lower demand caused by lockdowns.
OPEC+ has some 3.8 million barrels per day of cuts still in place and some analysts have suggested the group could pause its output increases.
President Joe Biden urged Americans not to panic about the new COVID-19 variant and said the United States was working with pharmaceutical companies to make contingency plans if new vaccines were needed.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s release of Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) has proven to have little impact on the underlying price of oil, following the initial price reaction in oil last week after the government flooded the market with 50 million barrels.
On the back of this, investment bank, JPMorgan thinks Brent will hit $120 per barrel in 2022, and could even overshoot to $150 per barrel in 2023, representing a potential upside of as much as 100 per cent from current levels.