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Oil Hits Two-Week High, Then Retreats as Powell Dims Rate Hopes

Alex Nussbaum

(Bloomberg) -- Oil closed at its highest level in more than two weeks and then stumbled back after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell seemed to dim hopes for more interest rate cuts.

Futures fell as much as 0.4% in New York, after settling 0.9% higher at the end of official trading. Flummoxed by conflicting supply and demand concerns, U.S. benchmark crude ended July up just 0.2%, its smallest monthly move since September 1991.

“There’s this sort of balance of terror between macroeconomic conditions and U.S. production growth, which are bearish, and all of the geopolitical tensions out there,” said Judith Dwarkin, chief economist at Calgary-based consultant RS Energy. “The market is just kind of in a position of stasis right now.”

While the Fed cut rates for the first time in a decade on Wednesday, Powell told reporters it wasn’t the start of an extended cycle of monetary-policy easing to protect the economy.

The U.S. dollar spiked -- typically a bearish sign for crude sales. The hawkish statements undid the advances futures made earlier in the day after the U.S. Energy Department said American crude inventories had fallen by 8.5 million barrels last week, a seventh straight decline that was higher than industry and analyst estimates.

U.S. equity markets also fell on Powell’s comments.

West Texas Intermediate for September delivery was 16 cents lower at $57.89 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 5:16 p.m. It closed at $58.58 for its fifth straight daily increase.

Brent crude for September, which expired Wednesday, added 45 cents to $65.17 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange at the end of trading. The more-active October contract fell 24 cents to $64.39.

The EIA report showed total U.S. inventories at the lowest level since late May. Total petroleum products supplied, a measure of demand for crude and other fuels, reached 21.1 million barrels on a four-week average, the highest ever for this period in data going back to 1990.

The lower U.S. 48 states pumped 1 million more barrels, however, as the slowdown in Gulf of Mexico oil production after Hurricane Barry faded.

“The EIA report in and of itself was constructive, but these factors outside the market are weighing prices down,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.

--With assistance from Heesu Lee and Grant Smith.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Herron at jherron9@bloomberg.net, Mike Jeffers, Joe Carroll

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