Oil futures drop more than 11% for the week

San Francisco (Jan 15)  Oil futures settled below the key $30-a-barrel level on Friday to tally a loss of more than 11% for the week as traders worried that Iranian supplies will add to a global surplus pushing prices to fresh 12-year lows.

February West Texas Intermediate crude CLG6, -4.68%  dropped $1.78, or 5.7%, to settle at $29.42 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after touching a low at $29.13. Prices, which marked their lowest closing level since November 2003, ended roughly 11.3% lower on the week.

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March Brent oil LCOH6, -5.31%  lost $1.94, or 6.3%, to $28.94 a barrel, for a weekly loss of more than 14%. Prices settled at their lowest level since February 2004.

Investment sentiment has weakened as international sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear program could be lifted as soon as this weekend.

“Of course, in the short term, we expect more Iranian crude to be exported as the embargoes are lifted,” said James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics.

But the addition may not come all at once.

“Assuming sanctions are lifted, we have Iranian supplies coming back by around 0.5 [million barrels a day], although the increase will not be straight away,” said Matt Parry, senior oil analyst at the International Energy Agency, told MarketWatch in a recent email interview.

The market may see an extra 0.2 million barrels a day in extra supplies immediately, then an additional 0.2 million barrels a day by the next quarter and another 0.1 million after that, he said.

“To do much more than this will require significant investment which, at today’s prices, will potentially be tricky to acquire,” said Parry.

Still, Iran won’t have any incentive to pull back on export levels.

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade, said the Iran news was already “baked in,” but now the current move lower for oil is based on the “rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.”

“The only affair which matters for them is to protect their market share,” said Aslam.

Over the U.S., data from Baker Hughes BHI, -3.11%  Friday showed that the number of active U.S. oil-drilling rigs, which is viewed as a proxy for drilling activity, fell by just 1 rig to 515 as of Friday.

With WTI prices at a more than 12-year low, however, Aslam said there may be a good investment opportunity.

“I think now is the time if you want to have a position in oil,” with a long-term view, he said. “It may be immensely fruitful.”

Peter Grandich of risk-management services provider Peter Grandich & Co. said he believes that the oil bear market has reached its final stage.

“In the last few weeks, investment firms have not only thrown in the towel on their cries all the way down to buy oil, but now are making such bearish forecasts to the point of claiming oil shall be cheaper than water,” he said in a blog Friday. “This needed to occur to set the stage for the final washout.”

See also:  Goldman still sees oil climbing back to $40 a barrel by midyear

Elsewhere in the energy market, February natural gas NGG16, -1.73%  lost 3.9 cents, or 1.8%, to $2.10 per million British thermal units,, after posting a drop of 5.7% on Thursday. For the week, prices ended roughly 15.1% lower on weaker prospects for heating-fuel demand.

February gasoline RBG6, -3.78%  lost 4.7 cents, or 4.4%, to $1.021 a gallon, down 9.4% for the week, and February heating oil ended at 93.4 cents a gallon, down 4.7 cents, or 4.7%—for a weekly loss of about 11.2%.