Oil falls on trade fears after Trump tariff threat

Crude Oil

Brent crude fell $2.10, or 2.7 percent, to a low of $76.76 before recovering slightly to $77.20, down $1.66, by 1208 GMT.

Oil futures plunged on Wednesday as the market remained fixed on supplies resuming from Libya and rising trade tensions between the US and China. US crude CLc1 was down $1.74 at $72.37 a barrel.

The spectre of tariffs on a further $200 billion of Chinese goods sent commodities lower along with stock markets, as tension between the world's biggest economies intensified. USA light crude, supported by a tight North American market, was down 65 cents at $73.46 a barrel.

"Trade concerns have bitten today", said Michael McCarthy, chief markets strategist at CMC Markets.

USA crude oil stocks fell by almost 13 million barrels last week, the most in almost two years, dropping overall crude stocks to their lowest point since February 2015, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. China is a top buyer of USA crude, and has said it could tax US oil if trade tensions escalate.

Iranian exports are expected to fall by 800,000 to 1 million barrels a day from their current level of 2.2 million barrels, said Dubai-based Ehsan Khoman, head of research for the Middle East and North Africa region at MUFG bank.

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"Libyan relief changes the conversation about spare capacity", said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management.

Analysts say the main wild card for the second half of the year is how much Iranian crude is lost from the worldwide market after the US reimposes sanctions in November.

Isolating Iran could sideline millions of barrels of oil per day from a market with little spare capacity left.

It comes as Donald Trump's top diplomat hinted the U.S. could grant waivers to some countries allowing them to continue importing Iranian crude oil even after sanctions are reimposed in November.

Isolating Iran from the oil market should have minimum market disruptions because of close cooperation with Saudi Arabia, a US official said.

Oil prices have gained for most of 2018 on tightening supply and strong demand but investors fear a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production may dampen price gains and offset production losses in countries including Libya. Higher gas prices can leave USA households with less money to spend on other products.

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