By Isabel Kua and Arathy Somasekhar
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Oil prices edged higher on Wednesday on hopes of a recovery in fuel demand as China continues to ease its COVID-19 restrictions, though gains were capped by recession concerns and restarts at some U.S. energy plants shut by winter storms.
Brent futures for February delivery rose 9 cents, or 0.1%, to $84.42 a barrel, by 0406 GMT. U.S. crude advanced 10 cents, or 0.1%, to $79.63 per barrel. Amid the optimistic market mood, both benchmarks hit their highest level in three weeks on Tuesday.
The hopes for a boost to demand for fuel in top crude oil importer China come as the world’s second-biggest economy moves towards reopening its borders next month after three years of stringent curbs on movement and businesses to counter the spread of COVID.
Chinese hospitals were under intense pressure due to a surge in COVID-19 infections as the country moves towards treating the virus as endemic.
The most recent COVID-19 policy easing in China will have a short-term positive effect specifically on international aviation, said Claudio Galimberti, senior vice-president at Rystad Energy.
“But to get to a full normalization of China’s demand we will need to wait two more months,” he added.
Prices were also buoyed by news that Russia aims to ban oil sales from Feb. 1 to countries that abide by a G7 price cap imposed on Dec. 5, according to a decree by President Vladimir Putin.
However, “while a Russian ban on oil sales would cut supply, this would be offset by lower demand due to a potential global economic recession next year”, said Leon Li, an analyst at CMC Markets.
Oil refiners in the U.S. on Tuesday were working to resume operations at a dozen facilities knocked offline by the deep freeze, a recovery that in some cases will stretch into January.
Output has been disrupted by an Arctic blast sending temperatures well below freezing, cutting oil and gas production from North Dakota and Texas.
Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil stocks were estimated to have fallen 1.6 million barrels last week with distillate inventories also seen down, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.
Industry group American Petroleum Institute is due to release data on U.S. crude inventories at 4.30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) on Wednesday. The Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, will release its own figures at 10.30 a.m. (1530 GMT) on Thursday.
(Reporting by Arathy Somasekhar and Isabel Kua; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell & Simon Cameron-Moore)