Oil prices ended higher on Friday on the first day of this year’s trading as investors focused on commodities amid tensions over Israel’s onslaught on Gaza and a Russia-Ukraine gas row.
New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for February, rose US$1.74 from its closing price on Wednesday to end at US$46.34 on Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In London, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in February advanced US$1.32 to settle at US$46.91 a barrel on the InterContinental Exchange.
Traders said prices were extremely volatile in a reflection of thin market turnover as many investors remained in a New Year holiday mood ahead of the weekend.
“The volatility is amazing,” independent analyst Ellis Eckland said, adding that investors were refocusing on commodities after experiencing their “worst quarter.”
“Some people are putting money into the commodities. Some institutions look and say, ‘Wow, commodities have had the worst quarter they’ve ever had,’” Eckland said.
The market experienced a tumultuous 2008, soaring to record highs above US$147 a barrel in July before a sharp global economic downturn slashed demand for energy and pulled prices sharply lower, dropping below US$35 last month.
“Prices have performed so poorly that people believe it won’t get much worse,” Adam Siemisnki of Deutsche Bank said.
“So I would say a combination of the stock market, some news on OPEC compliance, the gas issue, and the troubles in Israel,” he said, summing up the market volatility on Friday.
Prices may remain at current levels until US president-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, when his policies on the US economy, key oil producer Iran and the Israeli-Hamas conflict become clearer, Platts analyst Dave Ernsberger said.