Oil prices fall as Trump adviser’s exit stokes trade war fears

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SINGAPORE – Oil prices fell on Wednesday, pulled down by declining stock markets after a key advocate for free trade in the U.S. government resigned, stoking concerns Washington will go ahead with import tariffs and risk a trade war.

Soaring U.S. crude oil production and rising inventories also dragged on crude prices, traders said.

Gary Cohn, economic adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, seen as a bulwark against protectionist forces within the government, said on Tuesday he was resigning, triggering a more than 1 percent fall in S&P 500 futures on Wednesday.

Crude oil followed suit, with Brent futures down 53 cents, or 0.8 percent, from their previous close to $65.26 per barrel at 0747 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $62.14 a barrel, down 46 cents, or 0.7 percent.

“The overhang from the Cohn resignation … could see oil prices move lower during today’s session,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

A voice for Wall Street in the White House, Cohn’s move to resign came after he lost a fight over Trump’s plans for hefty steel and aluminum import tariffs.

Major powers, including the European Union and China, have warned that such tariffs could lead to retaliatory action and trigger a global trade war, which could grind to a halt economic growth and, by extension, oil consumption.

Traders said oil prices were also weighed down by a reported rise in U.S. crude oil inventories.

Crude inventories rose by 5.661 million barrels last week to 426.880 million barrels, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.

“Oil prices applied brakes as market optimism reclines on bearish API weekly petroleum reports,” brokerage Phillip Futures said in a note.

Official data by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is due on Wednesday.

Overall, oil supplies are ample despite efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia to withhold output in order to prop up prices.

The EIA on Tuesday made its latest in a series of upward revisions for U.S. crude oil production, which it now expects to rise by more than 120,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 11.17 million bpd by the fourth quarter of 2018.

That would take the United States past Russia to become the world’s biggest oil producer. The U.S. already passed top exporter Saudi Arabia late last year.

For 2019, the EIA forecast a crude production increase of 570,000 bpd to 11.27 million bpd.

“There appears to be nothing in the (API and EIA) data to push oil prices upwards for now,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta. –Reuters

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