Oil steadies as US-Iran optimism faces US-China trade deal hopes

Oil prices steadied on Monday after France’s president lifted hopes for a deal between the United States and Iran, while optimism for easing U.S.-China trade tensions supported prices.

Brent crude fell 53 cents to $58.82 a barrel, after earlier hitting a session high of $60.17. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures slipped 38 cents to $53.80 a barrel, after reaching $55.26 a barrel.

Prices fell after French President Emmanuel Macron said preparations were underway for a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming weeks to find a solution to a nuclear standoff.

“The prospect for talks between President Trump and President Rouhani is a tantalizing, bearish element for oil prices,” said John Kilduff, founder of Again Capital. “Any thawing in the U.S.-Iran relationship would naturally expect to involve easing of sanctions on Iran, resulting in increased oil sales. The market can barely handle current supply levels.”

Trump last year abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, arguing that he wanted a bigger deal that not only limited Iran’s atomic work, but also reined in its support for proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, and curbed its ballistic missile program.

Trump also tightened sanctions on Iran in May to try to choke off its oil exports.

“Now the market is pondering the possibility that we’ll see a flood or Iranian oil come onto the market if there’s progress made,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “We have to be admittedly cautious because we’ve heard of deals one minute only to be tweeted down the next minute.”

Buoying prices, Trump said he believed China was seeking a trade deal after he said Beijing contacted U.S. officials overnight to say it wanted a return to talks.

“Anything is possible. I can say we are having very meaningful talks, much more meaningful I would say than any time frankly,” Trump said later on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he had not heard about a phone call between the two sides.

China’s top negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, had earlier said Beijing was willing to solve the impasse through “calm” negotiations and opposed an escalation.

Concerns for the global economy have increased as trade tensions between Beijing and Washington mounted in recent days. Oil prices have fallen about 20% from a 2019 high reached in April in part because of worries that the U.S.-China trade conflict is hurting the global economy and therefore could dent demand for oil.

China’s Commerce Ministry said last week it would impose additional tariffs of 5% or 10% on a total of 5,078 products originating from the United States, including crude oil, agricultural products and small aircraft.

In retaliation, Trump said he was ordering U.S. companies to look at ways to close operations in China and make products in the United States.

SEB analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said the oil market was worried about “the secondary global growth effects of an upwards spiralling trade war between China and the U.S..”

“The second concern for the oil market is that ... China is now ready to wrestle with the U.S. in the global space of oil.

—CNBC’s Patti Domm contributed to this report.