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Oil prices fall on stronger dollar, weak US gasoline demand


By Shariq Khan

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices fell for the second consecutive session on Wednesday as the dollar strengthened and government data showed a surprise jump in U.S. crude and gasoline stocks.

Brent crude futures for May were down 49 cents, or 0.6%, at $85.76 a barrel at 1:07 p.m. ET (1707 GMT) while the more actively traded June contract fell 51 cents to$85.12. The May contract expires on Thursday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for May delivery fell 46 cents, or 0.6%, to $81.16 a barrel. Both Brent and WTI had fallen by more than $1 in earlier trading.

Prices have retreated since climbing to near five-month highs last week, but they remain about 3% higher so far this month.

Weighing on oil, the U.S. dollar index strengthened for the second consecutive session, and analysts say it looks poised to soar on a combination of positive fundamental and technical factors.

A stronger U.S. currency makes dollar-denominated oil more expensive for holders of other currencies, dampening demand.

A surprise jump in U.S. crude and gasoline stockpiles also added to the pressure on oil prices, analysts said. U.S. crude oil stocks rose by 3.2 million barrels while gasoline stocks rose by 1.3 million barrels in the week ended March 22, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Analysts polled by Reuters expected crude stocks to decline by 1.3 million barrels and gasoline stocks to drop by 1.7 million barrels.

“Considering the fact that we’re only making crude oil to make gasoline basically, that is a bearish development,” said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies led by Russia, together known as OPEC+, are unlikely to make any oil output policy changes until a full ministerial gathering in June, three OPEC+ sources told Reuters ahead of next week’s meeting to review the market and members’ implementation of output cuts.

OPEC+ this month agreed to extend output cuts of about 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to the end of June, although Russia and Iraq have had to go to extra lengths to tackle over-production.

Those struggles have called into question the group’s ability to comply with the agreed cuts, with OPEC having exceeded its targets by 190,000 bpd in February, a Reuters survey showed.

“The OPEC+ production cuts have sparked debate over volumes, particularly concerning Iraq’s overproduction over the past two months,” said Alex Hodes, energy analyst at StoneX.

“Another pivotal point is Russia’s potential volume reduction,” Hodes said. “Monitoring Russian oil flows in the upcoming quarter will be crucial for market observers,” he added.

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