Oil prices fell Tuesday, handing back some of hefty gains over the previous two sessions after disappointing Chinese trade numbers and ahead of crucial U.S. inflation data.

By 09:00 ET (13:00 GMT), U.S. crude futures traded 0.8% lower at $72.55 a barrel, while the Brent contract fell 0.7% to $76.44 a barrel.
Both contracts settled more than 2% higher in the previous trading session, after chunky gains on Friday as the strong U.S. payrolls data eased fears of a recession in the U.S., the world’s largest oil consumer.

However, the mood changed early Tuesday with the publication of data showing that China’s imports contracted sharply in April, while exports rose at a slower pace than expected, reinforcing signs of a slower than expected economic recovery from COVID in the largest crude importer in the world.

“Crude oil imports in April averaged 10.36MMbbls/d,” analysts at ING said, in a note, “this is down from 12.37MMbbls/d in the previous month and also lower than the 10.52MMbbls/d imported in April last year.”

A lot of expectation has been placed on China’s economy to offer up a surge in crude demand in the second half of the year, but traders are beginning to feel this may be misplaced.

“China’s not going to save the world this time,” Ric Deverell, chief economist at Macquarie, said last week and will avoid a massive stimulus injection to boost its post-pandemic economy like the one delivered after the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

Attention in the crude market is now turning towards Wednesday’s U.S. inflation data, and what it suggests for the aggressive monetary tightening cycle by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed raised interest rates once again last week, and although the U.S. central bank indicated it may pause in June the officials were keen to point out that any future moves were data dependent.

Turning to supply, the gains over the previous two sessions were helped by the lack of a resumption of Northern Iraqi oil flows via Ceyhan in Turkey, which is keeping in the region of 450 million barrels a day from the market, and wildfires in parts of Alberta, Canada has led to the shut-in of oil and gas infrastructure.

As something of a balancing factor, Moscow’s threatened output cut sounds more and more like an empty threat with each passing month as Russian crude oil flows to international markets show little sign of ebbing.

Four-week average seaborne shipments, which smooth out some of the volatility in weekly numbers, rose in the period to May 5 to the highest since the start of 2022, according to data from Bloomberg.

Later in the session, the American Petroleum Institute releases its weekly estimate of U.S. crude inventories, after showing a drop of almost 4 million barrels last week, and the Energy Information Administration releases its short-term energy outlook, which will include its latest forecasts for U.S. crude oil production.