COVID-19 Impact: Oil Prices Fall Below $0 a Barrel for First Time

The US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery sank to $10.01, its lowest level since 1986.

Updated21 Apr 2020, 02:16 AM IST
Business
3 min read

US oil prices rebounded back above zero on Tuesday, 21 April, a day after futures ended in negative territory for the first time as a coronavirus-triggered collapse in demand leaves the world awash in crude.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery was changing hands at USD 0.56 a barrel after closing at – USD 37.63 in New York.

Space is scarce to store oil amid the current glut, meaning there have been few buyers for the commodity. The May WTI contract closes on Tuesday, and the contract for June delivery is now more actively traded. That enjoyed a modest increase on Tuesday after heavy falls a day earlier, rising to above USD 21 a barrel.

Oil prices plunged below zero on Monday as demand for energy collapses amid the coronavirus pandemic and traders don’t want to get stuck owning crude with nowhere to store it.

The US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery sank to $10.01 per barrel, its lowest level since 1986.

The steep decline was driven by investors closing out their positions ahead of the May contract expiry on Tuesday. Investors left holding the contracts will have to take physical delivery of the contracts as storage is quickly becoming an issue.

The drop on the WTI June contract was less severe – 8.8 percent to $22.82.

“The real problem of the global supply-demand imbalance has started to really manifest itself in prices,” said Rystad Energy analyst Bjornar Tonhaugen.

The European benchmark contract, London Brent North Sea oil for June delivery, was down 6.3 percent at $26.30 per barrel.

"As production continues relatively unscathed, storage is filling up by the day. The world is using less and less oil and producers now feel how this translates in prices."

Traders are becoming more and more concerned that oil storage facilities are reaching their limits, as stockpiles continue to build owing to the crash in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analysts said this month’s agreement between OPEC and its peers to slash output by 10 million barrels a day was having little impact because of the virus lockdowns and travel restrictions that are keeping billions of people at home.

WTI was hit particularly hard as its main US storage facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma, were filling up, with Trifecta Consultants analyst Sukrit Vijayakar saying refineries were not processing crude fast enough.

There are also plenty of supplies from the Middle East with no buyers as "freight costs are high", he told AFP.

AxiCorp's Stephen Innes added: "It's a dump at all cost as no one... wants delivery of oil, with Cushing storage facilities filling by the minute. It hasn't taken long for the market to recognise that the OPEC+ deal will not, in its present form, be enough to balance oil markets."

Not Just a Problem for Energy Sector

But market analyst Patrick J. O'Hare noted that the collapse in oil prices is not just a problem for the energy sector.

"It's also a problem for the financial sector and investor sentiment in general, as weakening oil prices increase angst about solvency risk, geo-political risk, and social unrest in countries that are heavily reliant on oil revenue," he said in a note to clients.

Wall Street equities were mixed in late morning trading, but most European markets ended the day higher as governments start to consider how and when to ease the lockdowns that have crippled the global economy.

Italy, Spain, France and Britain reported drops in daily death tolls and slowing infection rates, while Germany began allowing some shops to reopen and Norway restarted nurseries.

Mounting evidence suggests that the lockdowns and social distancing are slowing the spread of the virus.

That has intensified planning in many countries to begin loosening curbs on movement and easing the crushing pressure on national economies.

(Published in an arrangement with PTI.)

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Published: 20 Apr 2020, 05:22 PM IST
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