Oil rises on U.S., Europe demand growth optimism

Oil prices rose on Tuesday after more U.S. states eased lockdowns and the European Union sought to attract travellers, while soaring COVID-19 cases in India capped gains.

Brent crude futures were 86 cents, or 1.27%, higher at $68.42 a barrel at 1224 GMT, after climbing 1.2% on Monday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also rose 77 cents, or 1.19%, to $65.26 a barrel, after gaining 1.4% on Monday. Both contracts were up over $1, or about 2%, in earlier trade.

Prices are being supported by the prospect of a pick-up in fuel demand as New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut were set to ease pandemic curbs and the EU planned to open up to more foreign visitors who have been vaccinated, analysts said.

"The current strength is led by U.S. gasoline where demand is seen healthy as more motorists take to the roads," Tamas Varga, analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said.

"Yesterday's stock market strength is being followed through this morning in the oil market... the market focuses on the successful roll-out of vaccine programmes in the U.S. and in other developed countries and not on the devastation in India and Brazil."

For further signs of rising U.S. oil demand, traders will be watching for reports on crude and product stockpiles from the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday and the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.

Five analysts polled by Reuters estimated on average that U.S. crude inventories fell 2.2 million barrels in the week to April 30. Oil inventories rose in the previous two weeks.

The rate of refinery utilisation was expected to have increased by 0.5 percentage points last week, from 85.4% of total capacity in the week ended April 23, according to the poll.

A weaker dollar, hit by an unexpected slowdown in U.S. manufacturing growth, also helped shore up oil prices on Tuesday. The lower dollar makes oil more attractive to buyers holding other currencies.

In India, the total number of infections so far rose to just short of 20 million after the country saw more than 300,000 new cases for a 12th straight day, which is expected to hit fuel demand in the world's most populous country after China.

"Strong demand forecasts for the second part of 2021 are providing a bullish seat for traders to drive rallies, not allowing any strong negative price reaction to drag for long, even at times of crisis, such as the recent one in India," Louise Dickson, oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy, said.

"In fact, looking at balances going forward, prices will likely climb again to about $70 per barrel in the coming months, unless we see another policy change by OPEC+ going forward."

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