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Oil lower on U.S. GDP and trade policies

Fourth quarter GDP came in lower for the United States amid lower government spending.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Weak showing for the U.S. economy drags crude prices lower in early Friday trading. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI
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Crude oil prices retraced steps Friday on reports of a downturn measured in the U.S. economy and uncertainty over the nuances of OPEC's managed decline.
Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries remain committed to a deal to trim output in an effort to ease supply-side strains that pushed oil prices to historic lows last year. The corresponding increase in crude oil prices, however, has brought some of the U.S. shale oil producers off the bench, adding to concerns about oversupply.
A dust-up between the U.S. and Mexican presidents this week over trade and border security, meanwhile, could upend the regional dynamics for energy. Both countries are linked strongly on energy, with Mexico serving as a top export destination for U.S. gasoline.
Olivier Jakob, managing director of Switzerland-based consultant Petromatrix, said in an emailed report that Trump's energy priorities should serve as "a wake-up call" for crude oil exporters to move away from the U.S. market given the presidents emphasis on tighter trade policies.
"In the short term however, given the risk of a tax and until then, it should be in the interest of Mexico to ship as much crude oil as possible to the United States," he wrote.
That could add to the growing capacity of oil kept in U.S storage facilities. Supplies are already building as refineries start to prepare for a regular seasonal maintenance period.
The price for Brent crude oil was down 0.6 percent about a half hour before the start of trading in New York to $55.87 per barrel. The U.S. price for oil, benchmarked by West Texas Intermediate, was off 0.4 percent to $55.38 per barrel.
U.S. storage levels may be influenced once sales are finalized by the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Meanwhile, Jakob said that if Trump continues with his tough stand on trade policies, "there is likely to be a return to increased competition in crude oil markets for international outlets in the second half of the year."
That could play a role in OPEC's managed decline efforts, which are further threatened by exemptions for some member states. Already, Libya is producing more oil and Iran said it was shipping condensate to Japan. Condensate is an ultra-light form of oil not classified as crude oil.
Markets were pressured further early Friday by a report from the U.S. Commerce Department that fourth quarter domestic product came in at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, against the 3.5 percent measured in the fourth quarter.
"The deceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected a downturn in exports, an acceleration in imports ... and a downturn in federal government spending," the report read.

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