Oil prices fell 1 percent on Wednesday, weighed down by swelling USA inventories and a plunge in global stock markets amid concerns over an economic slowdown.
West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery climbed 56 cents to $53.69 a barrel at the close of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
An unexpected rise in USA crude inventories reported the day before eclipsed possible US sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector. Equity markets ralliedaround the globe on encouraging earnings reports and word that the U.S. Federal Reserve was considering an early halt of efforts to reduce its balance sheet.
A drop in refining activity, a dip in crude exports and a jump in crude imports has brought an abrupt end to recent crude draws, said Smith.
The output surge has swollen US fuel stocks, and crude inventories rose by 8 million barrels last week, according to official data released on Thursday. Sanctions would likely accelerate those trends.
Analysts said tough United States penalties on Venezuela's oil industry would be bullish for prices.
Sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry would deliver a staggering blow on the country's crashing economy, but also have important implications for the United States.
"The breakdown in diplomatic relations was interpreted as upping the possibility of a US sanction on Venezuelan oil that would likely force USA refiners to seek alternative supplies at higher prices, hence the WTI gains", Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. But the two countries have long history of interdependency when it comes to oil that has endured through years of political tensions.
There's no shortage of oil in the world right now, with global supplies hitting a record last summer.
"It's certainly not a bad thing for Canadian heavy crude producers to have a competitor in a market like the U.S. Gulf Coast potentially go away", said John Auers, executive vice president at energy consultant Turner Mason & Co.in Dallas.
As we shuffle into seasonal maintenance, it is no surprise to see refinery runs dropping, but this drop has been compounded by a big jump in imports to propel crude stocks higher, he said. Gas Energy's report said India was the second-largest importer of Venezuelan crude in November. Refineries operated at 92.9 percent of their operable capacity.
But the rally has eased on fears that weakening global growth, and an exacerbation of China's slowdown amid a trade conflict with the US, will curb oil demand.
And Venezuela relies on USA products to keep its oil industry afloat. Even if Maduro's government is replaced, "the road back for Venezuela will be extremely arduous given the depths of the economic and humanitarian crisis", Tran and fellow RBC analyst Helima Croft wrote in a note.
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