US oil prices have slipped below $US100 ($A110.
86) a barrel as the dollar strengthens on raised expectations of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike sooner than previously thought.
New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in April, fell 94 US cents on Thursday to close at $US99.43 a barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for May rose 60 US cents to $US106.45 a barrel in London.
Markets were still digesting Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen’s comments on Wednesday that the US central bank could begin increasing its key federal funds interest rate about six months after it ends its stimulus program.
With the asset-purchase program likely to wrap up by year-end, Yellen’s comments suggested to some that the Fed would raise its main rate in the first half of 2015. Expectations had been for an increase later in the year.
“We see a spillover effect” from Yellen’s comments, said John Kilduff of Again Capital.
The more hawkish outlook for interest rates put the dollar back on rally mode, he said. “That seems to be pressuring commodities generally, and crude oil as part of that.”
The dollar reached a two-week high against the euro Thursday, trading at $US1.3747. A stronger greenback makes dollar-priced commodities more expensive for buyers using other currencies.
Traders kept an eye on the escalating Ukraine crisis, as the West and Russia dug in their heels over Moscow’s absorption this week of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
US President Barack Obama announced Thursday expanded sanctions against Russian officials, and minutes later the Kremlin struck back with travel bans against US officials and lawmakers, including the leaders of the two chambers of the US Congress.
The new US sanctions notably target Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, a co-founder of Gunvor, one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading companies involved in the oil and energy markets.
Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, said the US sanctions against Gunvor raised some market worries, and oil prices “bumped up a bit” after the announcement.
“The fear is that customers will think that if they buy from Gunvor, the financial transactions might be interfered with, that banks may not want to handle the transactions because the US would threaten sanctions” against those banks, Lynch said.