By Nia Williams and Ahmad Ghaddar
(Reuters) – Oil prices edged lower on Thursday, hovering around two-month lows as the level of a proposed G7 cap on the price of Russian oil raised doubts about how much it would limit supply.
A bigger-than-expected build in U.S. gasoline inventories and widening COVID-19 controls in China also added downward pressure on crude prices.
Brent crude futures were down 28 cents, or 0.3%, to $85.13 a barrel by 12:48 p.m. ET (1748 GMT), while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 5 cents, or 0.1%, to $77.89.
Trading volumes were thin because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.
Both benchmarks plunged more than 3% on Wednesday on news the planned price cap on Russian oil could be above the current market level.
European Union governments remained split over what level to cap Russian oil prices at to curb Moscow’s ability to pay for its war in Ukraine without causing a global oil supply shock, with more talks possible on Friday if positions converge.
The G7 group of nations is looking at a cap on Russian seaborne oil at $65-$70 a barrel, a European official said, though European Union governments have yet to agree on a price.
A higher price cap could make it attractive for Russia to continue to sell its oil, reducing the risk of a supply shortage in global oil markets.
The Kremlin on Thursday said Russia does not plan to supply oil and gas to countries that support the cap but it will make a final decision once it analyses the figures.
“When one considers that the current Russian export price is below the proposed limit, the price cap automatically implies uninterrupted Russian exports,” said PVM Oil analyst Tamas Varga.
Some Indian refiners are paying the equivalent to a discount of around $25 to $35 a barrel to international benchmark Brent crude for Russian Urals crude, two sources said. Urals is Russia’s main export crude.
Oil prices also came under pressure after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday that U.S. gasoline and distillate inventories rose substantially last week. [EIA/S]
But crude inventories fell by 3.7 million barrels to 431.7 million barrels in the week to Nov. 18, compared with expectations for a 1.1 million barrel drop in a Reuters poll of analysts.
China on Wednesday reported the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic nearly three years ago. Local authorities tightened controls to stamp out the outbreaks, adding to investor concern over the economy and fuel demand.
(Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar; Additional reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia, Ahmad Ghaddar in London, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo and Muyu Xu in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Mark Potter)