Oil price falls as coronavirus cases mount and US presidential debate looms

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Oil prices dropped on Tuesday as Europe and the United States grappled with a surge in new coronavirus infections and investors remained cautious ahead of the first US presidential debate.

Brent’s November contract, which expires on Wednesday, fell 63 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $41.80 a barrel by 1342 GMT. The more active Brent crude contract for December fell 67 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $42.20.

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US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 81 cents, or 2 percent, to $39.79.

More than one million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally, a bleak milestone in a pandemic that has devastated the global economy and demand for fuel.

“Rising numbers of new corona cases in the United States and Europe are limiting the upside potential (for oil prices),” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

The heads of the world’s largest trading houses predicted tepid oil demand recovery and flat prices in the coming months and possibly even years.

Meanwhile, all eyes were on the first US presidential election debate, at which Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump will square off, later on Tuesday (0100 GMT on Wednesday).

Hopes of a new economic stimulus program in the United States lent some support to prices as Democratic lawmakers unveiled a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said was a compromise measure.

G20 energy ministers emphasized the importance of stimulus packages in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Investors will also look for signs of growth in US demand from American Petroleum Institute data on Tuesday and from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.

The average US crude oil inventory estimate from five analysts polled by Reuters was that US stocks rose by 1.4 million barrels in the week to September 25. They expect gasoline stockpiles to have fallen by 1.6 million barrels and distillate inventories, which include diesel and jet fuel, to have declined by 800,000 barrels.

Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region have also kept markets on edge. If the conflict escalates, it could affect oil and gas exports from Azerbaijan.

“Disruptions to output and exports do not seem imminent. Nevertheless, the conflict has raised the geopolitical risk temperature,” said oil broker PVM’s Tamas Varga.

In a clear sign of weak demand in Japan, the world’s fourth-biggest crude buyer, official data showed the country’s August oil imports fell more than 25 percent from a year earlier.

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