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Oil prices are on the march again Thursday after climbing sharply yesterday, with WTI prices this morning above $69 per barrel and Brent crude, the global benchmark, earlier reaching $74.61.

Crude oil is trading at its highest levels in well over three years.

Expand chart
Data: Money.net; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: As we noted yesterday in the Axios stream, the price jump suggests that oil may no longer be stuck in the $60 to $70-a-barrel range, but may have room to rise much higher. That would put a lot more money in the coffers of the petro-states, and could bring inflation to oil-consuming states.

What's happening: Signs of declining stockpiles, OPEC and Russia's apparent determination to stay the course on their current supply-limiting deal, and geopolitical tensions are all fueling the upward moves, which come despite the ongoing U.S output surge.

Yes, but: That said, OCBC analyst Barnabas Gan predicts in Reuters that the "risk premiums" from geopolitical tensions in the Middle East will be short-lived and that "investors will likely be normalizing prices lower again as the tensions ease."

Looking forward: This morning, the Wall Street Journal sets the table for tomorrow's meeting of oil officials from Saudi Arabia and Russia as analysts wonder what happens after the current deal expires at year's end.

  • "A strong show of support for a continuation of the pact could further underpin prices, when geopolitics and the threat of supply disruptions have been pressuring them higher," the paper reports.

Eyes on Iran: Markets are also watching the U.S. posture toward the Iran nuclear deal and especially next month's decision on whether to continue waiving energy sanctions.

  • A new piece in Bloomberg surveyed analysts and found, "The 17 respondents saw on average a 50-50 chance of sanctions 'snap-back,' which could halt anywhere between zero and 800 thousand barrels a day of exports from OPEC’s third-largest producer within the next six months."

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.