U.S. tells world to steer clear of Iranian oil tankers

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Production has not just risen in the United States, but also in many other countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Brazil, stoking producer concerns of a return of oversupply that depressed oil prices between 2014 and 2017. That put WTI down 20.6% from its October 3 high, officially meeting the definition of a bear market.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $61.69 per barrel at 0221 GMT, 2 cents above their last settlement.

USA crude production has accelerated to new records, OPEC output is at the highest in years and waivers will allow some Iranian crude to flow to the market despite US sanctions. Instinet technical analyst Frank Cappelleri observed that the last time crude experienced a 20% peak-to-trough correction was in 2017, but it took crude almost six months to accomplish that feat. This most recent downward spiral has taken five weeks.

This view is reflected in price charts showing the front-month January Brent futures contract trading at a discount to February.

Analysts continue to believe that oil's slide is a case of bad timing.

The exception granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to U.S. sanctions reimposed on Iran on Monday also will permit the construction of a railway line from Chabahar port to Afghanistan, and for shipments to the war-torn country of non-sanctionable goods, like food and medicines, the spokesman said.

"Iran's situation is better than pre-2016 because of high oil prices and the fact that the U.S. is isolated this time", the report by Reuters quoted a European diplomat as saying. That initially helped keep crude oil prices at multiyear highs, but as Washington granted waivers to the biggest buyers including China, India, and South Korea, investors turned sour on light and sweet.

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Once the waivers expire after 180 days, new waivers are expected to be issued, with a source in China saying his country would likely receive another six months of exemptions, though at a lower rate of around 220,000 bpd.

In a relief for India, the United States has exempted New Delhi from the imposition of certain sanctions for the development of the strategically-located Chabahar Port in Iran as well as the construction of the railway line connecting it with Afghanistan.

Brian Hook, special USA representative for Iran, said that as major insurers withdraw coverage for Iranian vessels, Iran will likely turn to domestic insurance companies that will be unable to cover losses for major maritime accidents.

The U.S. sanctions had threatened India's ability to obtain financing for the development of Chabahar, which could potentially end Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan's port of Karachi. Perhaps that will come from Libya and Nigeria, which are heading into elections that could lead to sustained periods of instability, further disrupting oil supplies.

Analysts said the main downward price pressure came from rising supply, despite the USA sanctions against Iran that were imposed this week, as well as concerns over an economic slowdown.

That means a short-term rally, if it materializes, could be last-call for oil bulls.

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