By Sudarshan Varadhan
(Reuters) – Oil prices fell in early Asian trade on Monday after Israel said it had “ended” a series of strikes in southern Gaza, slightly easing concerns over supplies from the Middle -East.
Brent crude futures were down 43 cents, or 0.5%, at $81.76 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 46 cents, or 0.6%, to $76.38 per barrel at 01:35 GMT.
Geopolitical risks, including the feared extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict across the region and potential disruption of oil supplies to the Middle East, pushed prices up about 6% last week.
The Israeli army announced on Monday that it had carried out a “series of strikes” in southern Gaza, which are now “completed”, days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Hamas ceasefire proposal. .
Although supply concerns in the Middle East remained relatively high, news from the United States eased some concerns.
U.S. energy companies increased their oil and gas drilling rigs to their highest level since mid-December, potentially signaling an increase in production. Domestic production returned to a record 13.3 million barrels per day (bpd) last week.
Concerns about demand remain, with a Federal Reserve official saying she has no interest in recommending an interest rate cut, strengthening voices for bringing inflation under control again. Higher interest rates slow economic growth, which dampens demand for oil.
Trading hours in Asia are expected to be limited as most countries in the region, including China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia, are closed for vacation.
Mainland China’s financial markets are closed for the Lunar New Year holiday and will resume trading on Monday, February 19. Hong Kong trade will resume on February 14.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Sonali Paul)