NEW YORK: Oil prices dropped about 3% to a nine-week low on Tuesday after a US inflation report and the recent US bank failures sparked fears of a fresh financial crisis that could reduce future oil demand.

Brent futures fell $2.53, or 3.1%, to $78.24 a barrel by 1:59 p.m. EDT (1759 GMT), while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell $2.48, or 3.35, to $72.32.

That pushed both contracts into technically oversold territory for the first time in weeks and puts Brent on track for its lowest close since Jan. 4 and WTI on track for its lowest close since Dec. 9.

Shockwaves from Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse triggered big moves in bank shares as investors fretted over the financial health of some lenders, in spite of assurances from US President Joe Biden and other global policymakers.

“Crude prices are falling after a mostly in-line inflation report sealed the deal for at least one more Fed (US Federal Reserve) rate hike,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at data and analytics firm OANDA.

US consumer prices increased solidly in February as Americans faced persistently higher costs for rents and food, posing a dilemma for the Fed, whose fight against inflation has been complicated by the collapse of two regional banks.

Data showed the US Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4% in February from 0.5% in January. That slight slowdown in consumer price growth prompted investors to price in a smaller rate hike by the Federal Reserve in March.

The Fed is now seen raising its benchmark rate by just a quarter of a percentage point next week, down from a previously expected 50-basis points, and delivering another hike of the same size in May. The Fed’s next two-day meeting starts next Tuesday.

“The Fed’s tightening work is not done just yet and the chances are growing that they will send the economy into a mild recession, and risks remain that it could be a severe one,” OANDA’s Moya said.

The US central bank uses higher interest rates to reduce inflation. But those higher rates increase consumer borrowing costs, which can slow the economy and reduce demand for oil.

Tuesday’s crude price decline also came ahead of US data expected to show energy firms added about 1.2 million barrels of oil to crude stockpiles during the week ended March 10.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group, will publish its inventory data at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday and the US Energy Information Administration at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Limiting crude’s price decline - at least earlier in the day - was a monthly report from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) projecting higher oil demand in China, the world’s biggest oil importer, in 2023.

Chinese consumers, unshackled from COVID-19 restrictions, are returning to hotels, restaurants and some shops, but they are choosy about what they buy, disappointing hopes for an immediate post-pandemic splurge.

OPEC, however, left unchanged its forecast for world oil demand to increase by 2.32 million barrels per day, or 2.3%, in 2023.—Reuters