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Oil trades below $63 as investors assess US-China trade battle

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Oil’s decline slowed after prices fell to an almost three-week low as investors continued to evaluate the potential impact of an escalating trade conflict between the U.S. and China.

Futures in New York traded below $63 a barrel after dropping 4.4 percent last week. While U.S. President Donald Trump predicted the Asian nation will be first to buckle as the world’s two largest economies teeter on the brink of a trade war, a speech by China’s Xi Jinping at a conference on Tuesday may shed some light on his plans. Meanwhile, money managers slashed bets on rising West Texas Intermediate crude by the most since August, while short-selling surged.

Oil is losing steam after rising more than 5 percent last month as Trump repeatedly raised the stakes against China, rattling markets in recent weeks. Along with other risky assets, oil took a blow on concern the escalating tension will threaten growth that drives energy demand amid record U.S. output, hindering efforts of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to curb a global glut and prop up prices.

“It’s a tough market at the moment. There’s weakness in the next session or two, and a constrained range until we get more global market news,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, said by phone from Sydney. “There’s potential for a breakaway announcement from President Xi Jinping. There will be fairly cautious Asia Pacific trading ahead of that tomorrow.”

WTI for May delivery traded 17 cents higher at $62.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 8:23 a.m. in London. Prices fell 2.3 percent to $62.06 Friday, the lowest close since March 19. Total volume traded was about 15 percent above the 100-day average.

Brent for June settlement was up 24 cents to $67.35 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract dropped $1.22, or 1.8 percent, to $67.11 on Friday. The global benchmark crude traded at a $5.08 premium to June WTI.

Futures for September delivery were little changed at 402.3 yuan a barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange. The exchange was closed Thursday and Friday for Chinese holidays.

In the U.S., President Trump ordered a review of tariffs on another $100 billion of imports from China, bringing the total to $150 billion of Chinese goods under consideration. In response, a senior Chinese official said the nation will “retaliate immediately, intensively, without any hesitation.”

Adding bearishness to the market, hedge funds cut their WTI net-long position — the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a drop — by 9.4 percent in the week ended April 3, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Longs fell 7.4 percent as funds shed the largest number of bullish bets in almost a year, while shorts jumped the most since August. — Bloomberg