Oil prices fall, U.S. Fed rate decision in focus

June 12 (Reuters) - Oil prices declined on Monday ahead of a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting as investors tried to gauge the central bank's appetite for further rate hikes, while concerns about China's fuel demand growth and rising Russian crude supply weighed on the market.

Brent crude futures fell 70 cents, or 0.94%, to $74.09 a barrel by 0647 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was at $69.53, down 0.91%.

Both benchmarks posted their second straight weekly declines last week as disappointing China economic data raised concerns about demand growth in the world's largest crude importer, offsetting a boost in prices from Saudi Arabia pledging to cut production by 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in July."
Oil prices are caught in a clash between two opposing forces, bearish asset allocators who point to monetary contraction and bullish oil speculators expecting lower inventories in 2H23," Bank of America Global Research's Francisco Blanch said in a note.

"The bearish allocators will maintain the upper hand for now, as oil prices struggle to rally until the Fed eases money supply," Blanch said. The bank still expects Brent crude to average about $80 a barrel in 2023.

The Fed's rate hikes have strengthened the greenback, making dollar-denominated commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies and weighing on prices.

Most market participants expect the U.S. central bank to leave interest rates unchanged when it concludes its two-day monetary policy meeting on Wednesday.

"All eyes are now fixated on two key factors that will sway the direction of oil prices. Firstly, the U.S. inflation reading (on Tuesday) will be closely parsed through by market participants to seek clues about the overall economic climate," Sugandha Sachdeva, executive director and chief strategist of equity, currency and commodities at Acme Investment Advisors, said.

"Secondly, the policy outlook of the Fed for the year ahead will guide the course of oil prices," Sachdeva added.

On the supply side, while Saudi Arabia has cut oil production four times in the past year, Russian supply has held up as sanctions were engineered in a way to have less of an impact on output, Blanch said.

Russian oil exports to China and India have grown despite the implementation of the European Union's embargo and the Group of Seven's price cap mechanism that started in early December.

Goldman Sachs cut its oil price forecasts on higher-than-expected supplies from Russia and Iran and raised 2024 supply forecasts for the two producers and Venezuela by a total 800,000 bpd.

The bank's December crude price forecast now stands at $86 a barrel for Brent, down from $95, and at $81 a barrel for WTI, down from $89.