Overbought Oil Futures Pause Rally Near Fresh 1-Year Highs

Liubov Georges
By  Liubov Georges , DTN Energy Reporter

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Oil futures nearest delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange and the front month Brent contract on the Intercontinental Exchange traded in a choppy pattern early Tuesday after notching a gain in every session so far in February, paring an overnight advance to fresh one-year highs as traders grew increasingly concerned that the recent exuberance in the broader markets propelled by a "war speed" vaccination program in the United States and the increased likelihood for a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus to move through the U.S. Congress lifted prices to what some market observers see as unsustainably high levels in the face of still poor demand fundamentals.

In early trade, March West Texas Intermediate futures was flat near $57.95 per barrels (bbl) and the international crude benchmark Brent contract for April delivery was little changed near $60.55 bbl after both contracts surged nearly 2% on Monday. NYMEX March ULSD futures edged higher off a one-year high spot settlement of $1.7478 gallon, and March RBOB futures slipped to trade near $1.6720 gallon.

Equity futures signal losses in premarket activity, with contracts tied to Dow Jones Industrials slipping 42 points and those linked to the S&P 500 were down 0.1%. Renewed weakness across the financial markets could provide headwinds for the oil complex as the session progress.

Both WTI and Brent are now trade at their highest levels since the first waves of coronavirus infections swept across the world in early 2020, although momentum indicators show an overbought market. Despite significant improvement in the daily rates of inoculations and infections in the United States, demand fundamentals are far from their pre-pandemic levels, with millions of Americans still out of the workforce and many businesses struggling to reopen in the face of ongoing social-distancing guidelines and restrictions.

U.S. small business optimism index for January missed the mark with 95.0 reading versus an expected 97.0. The actual reading fell for the third month in a row in January as the outlook for business conditions deteriorate further. Responders contributed the lingering weakness to depressed consumer spending and quarantine restrictions.

Against this backdrop, more Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccine than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 43.1 million doses have been given, according to a state-by-state tally complied by Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Last week, an average of 1.47 million doses per day were administered. At this rate, it will take an estimated 10 months to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose vaccine.

States leading the way in vaccinating their populations include Alaska, with 20.9 million doses administered, accounting for 15% of the state's population, followed by West Virginia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. Large populous states like California, Florida, Texas, New York, and North Carolina, are quickly approaching vaccinating 10% of their populations.

This week, some states have begun the second phase of the immunization program, drawing more on administering doses from pharmacies and health clinics after focusing first on hospitals and other institutional health-care settings, which should further speed up the daily inoculation rate. U.S. coronavirus cases, meanwhile, continued to decline this week and now stand at 92,739 a day as of Monday -- the lowest tally since early November 2020.

Liubov Georges can be reached at liubov.georges@dtn.com

Liubov Georges