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Russian Invasion Scare Sends Oil Prices Soaring

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Oil traders were rattled by reports on Friday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could take place within days and bid up oil prices to nearly $95 in large trading volumes.

Tensions rose when PBS NewsHour reported that US officials believed that Russia's President Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told a press briefing on Friday that a military invasion was not guaranteed, but that Washington saw enough pieces in place for it to be a clear possibility.

Sullivan said Russia has continued amassing troops on the border and that “we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time, should Vladimir Putin decide to order it.”

US President Joe Biden again discussed the situation on the Ukrainian border on Friday with leaders from the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Poland and Romania, as well as Nato and EU officials.

The leaders agreed to impose “massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia should it choose military escalation,” the White House said, while “result-oriented” diplomatic efforts continued to avoid war.

Russia has on numerous occasions denied that it plans to invade Ukraine.

Disrupting Flows

Traders fear disruptions of oil and natural gas flows from Russia to Europe in case a war begins, either directly from blown-up pipelines or halted flows, or indirectly when energy trade gets caught up in sanctions.

Russia delivers Europe with one-third of its natural gas needs and exports around 2 million b/d of both crude oil and refined products to European nations. Other sources could replace much of these flows, but not all.

April Brent futures contracts added $3.03 to close at $94.44 per barrel on ICE Futures after trading as high as $95.66/bbl. In New York, Nymex West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery added $3.22 to settle at $93.10/bbl, and prices continued rising after the close.

Geopolitical tensions have been driving up oil prices for weeks, and prices were already on edge from demand rising faster than expected while supply struggles to keep up.

Analysts note that if energy gets tangled up in the potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the impact of disrupted oil and natural gas flows will reverberate around the world. Much higher prices for oil and gas could even cause a global recession, economists warn.

Place Your Bets

Speculators have taken out huge bets on oil prices reaching and exceeding $100/bbl in the market for options on crude futures, which can become profitable in the event of large supply disruptions.

To cover these bets, market makers must buy futures contracts, which in turn raises the oil price.

In the futures market itself, larger hedge funds have started taking some bets on higher prices off the table because, as one broker said, they believe that “from a speculative point of view ... the bullish case has been fully built.”

Data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Friday afternoon confirmed that these positions were still being taken off through Tuesday Feb. 8.

But that discounted a Russian invasion. Since then, the oil price has added another $5 and attracted some fresh risk capital to the market.

Topics:
Crude Oil, Oil Futures and Derivatives, Oil Prices, Oil Supply, Oil Products, Military Conflict, Macroeconomics , Sanctions
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