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Oil prices rise 1% and remain on course for weekly gain

Oil prices rose today and were on track for their first weekly gain since early January as investors bet the economic impact of the coronavirus would be short-lived and hoped for further Chinese central bank stimulus to tackle any slowdown. 

Brent crude was up 57 cents or 1% at $56.91 a barrel this morning It has risen 4.4% since last Friday, its first weekly increase in six weeks. 

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was 48 cents or 0.9% higher at $51.90 a barrel, up 3.2% for the week. 

More than 1,350 people have died from the coronavirus in China, which has disrupted the world’s second largest economy and shaken energy markets. Brent has fallen 15% since the beginning of the year. 

However, market sentiment improved as factories in China started to reopen and the government eased its monetary policy. 

The World Health Organization also reassured traders by saying the big jump in China’s reported cases reflected a decision by authorities to reclassify a backlog of suspected cases, and did not necessarily indicate a wider epidemic. 

Some officials and analysts were still hopeful that the demand impact would remain limited to China. 

US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Reuters the coronavirus epidemic in China has had a marginal impact on energy markets and is unlikely to dramatically affect oil prices even if Chinese demand falls by 500,000 barrels per day. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said that first-quarter oil demand is set to fall versus a year earlier for the first time since the financial crisis in 2009 because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

In response to the demand slump, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allied producers, a grouping known as OPEC+, are considering cutting output by up to 2.3 million barrels a day.

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