Oil steadies as OPEC fuels demand hopes amid new COVID-19 worries

  • OPEC bullish on oil market recovery but virus variants pose risk
  • Market broadly expects COVID-19 vaccines to bolster oil demand
  • Delta variant prompts new travel curbs
  • OPEC+ to meet on July 1 to discuss output increase
  • API says U.S. crude stocks fell 8.2 million bpd last wk -sources

NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) - Oil prices steadied on Tuesday as broad hopes for a demand recovery persisted, fueled by comments from OPEC's secretary general, slightly overshadowing travel curbs due to new outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Brent crude futures settled up 8 cents, or 0.1%, at$74.76 a barrel, having slumped by 2% on Monday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled up 7 cents, or 0.1%, at $72.98 a barrel, after a 1.5% retreat on Monday.

Demand in 2021 was expected to grow by 6 million barrels per day (bpd), with 5 million bpd of that in the second half, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo told Tuesday's meeting of the Joint Technical Committee of OPEC+, an alliance made up of OPEC states, Russia and their allies. read more

"The current 'wild card' factor is the 'Delta Variant' of the pandemic that is resulting in rising cases and renewed restrictions in many regions," he said in a speech, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

The producer group is expected to gradually ramp up production in response to demand.

"Barkindo's comments suggest that OPEC is not going to raise production quickly enough to keep up with demand," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

OPEC's demand forecasts show that in the fourth quarter global oil supply will fall short of demand by 2.2 million bpd, giving the producers some room to agree to add output. read more

The market expects the rollout of vaccination programmes to brighten the demand outlook, even as the new variant rises, analysts said.

"The narrative of the past few months has not changed: the war against the virus is being gradually won, the global economy and oil demand are recovering," said PVM Oil analyst Tamas Varga.

"Oil supply is being effectively managed. Therefore dips are probably viewed by ardent bulls as attractive buying opportunities."

"The market has grown relatively immune to COVID-19 developments, but if lockdowns occur in larger demand centres in Asia, we may see the market’s nonchalance abate."

Spain and Portugal, favourite summer holiday destinations for Europeans, imposed new restrictions on unvaccinated Britons on Monday, while Australians also faced tighter curbs owing to flare-ups of the virus across the country. read more

Investors will be looking to the latest U.S. Energy Department oil inventory data on Wednesday for cues on the demand outlook.

Futures rose in after-market trade after industry figures released late Tuesday showed U.S. crude oil inventories fell last week while fuel stockpiles rose, according to two market sources.

Crude stocks fell by 8.2 million barrels, gasoline inventories rose by 2.4 million barrels and distillate stocks climbed by 428,000 barrels, the American Petroleum Institute's data showed, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. [API/S]

Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Sonali Paul Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Goodman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.