Oil prices up $1 over shipping disruption fears

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Oil prices gained more than $1 by midday on Monday as European diesel demand, constrained by Russian sanctions and shipping disruptions, pulled prices higher in a market jittery with U.S. refinery output limited by planned overhauls, analysts said.

Brent crude futures were up $1.41, or 1.73%, to $83.03 a barrel at 12:11 p.m. CST (1811 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures (WTI) climbed $1.48, or 1.93%, to $77.97.

“We’re all watching the diesel,” said John Kilduff, partner with Again Capital LLC.

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A slump in U.S. refining activity and disruptions to global trade have tightened diesel supplies in recent weeks, dampening historically high U.S. diesel exports to Europe this month.

U.S. diesel cracks briefly surged to a four-month high of more than $48 a barrel this month, crimping arbitrage opportunities to ship the fuel to Europe.

Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen narrowly missed hitting a U.S.-flagged tanker on Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said. Another vessel hit by the rebels last week was abandoned and has been seen leaking fuel in the Red Sea.

Possible disruptions “are what’s haunting this market,” Kilduff said.

While early trade on Monday was driven by fears about persistent inflation limiting demand, the focus moved to a more basic issue, said Phil Flynn, analyst and Price Futures Group.

“We seem to be slipping back to the supply side issue,” Flynn said. “Demand is very strong and at the end of the day, it’s about supply and demand.”

Refiners are also expected to begin restoring production in March following the completion of planned plant overhauls at U.S. refineries, he said.

U.S. refinery utilization has been at 80.6% of national capacity for the past two weeks, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said last week.

Oil prices have been trading between $70 and $90 a barrel since November as rising U.S. supply and concern over weak Chinese demand offset OPEC+ supply cuts despite wars raging in Ukraine and Gaza.

As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues in the Middle East, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that negotiators for the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Israel had agreed on the basic contours of a hostage deal during talks in Paris but were still in negotiations.

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