Commodities

Oil falls for fifth day on demand concerns as coronavirus spreads

Reuters TOKYO | Updated on February 27, 2020 Published on February 27, 2020

US crude stocks rise, gasoline inventories drop. File Photo   -  Reuters

OPEC+ due to meet over March 5-6

Oil prices fell for a fifth day on Thursday to their lowest since January 2019 as a growing number of new coronavirus cases outside of China fuelled fears of a pandemic, which could slow the global economy and lower crude demand.

Brent crude was down 60 cents, or 1.1 per cent, at $52.83 a barrel at 0741 GMT. The contract earlier fell to as low as $52.53, the lowest since January 2, 2019.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures fell by 55 cents, or 1.1 per cent, to $48.18 a barrel. It earlier fell to as low as $47.82, the lowest since January 4, 2019.

In the five trading sessions through Thursday, Brent has dropped 10.6 per cent, while WTI has declined 10.4 per cent, their biggest five-day percentage losses since August 2019.

On Wednesday, for the first time ever, the number of new coronavirus infections outside China, the source of the outbreak, exceeded the number of new Chinese cases.

The spread to large economies including South Korea, Japan and Italy has caused concerns that fuel demand growth will be limited. On Wednesday, consultants Facts Global Energy forecast oil demand growth will only be 60,000 barrels per day in 2020, or “practically zero”, because of the widening outbreak.

US President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday evening that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low”. However, Asian share markets fell on Thursday morning, as investors fear the coronavirus spread will disrupt the global economy as quarantines and other measures taken to halt its advance slow trade and industry.

“Speculation that coronavirus may spread in the US prompted a series of fresh selling,” said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Fujitomi Co.

If an outbreak “continues to worsen in the US, oil prices will likely decline further, especially with US gasoline prices already plunging,” Saito said.

The US is the world's largest oil producer and consumer.

Gasoline stockpiles dropped by 2.7 million barrels in the week to February 21 to 256.4 million, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, amid a decline in refinery throughput. Distillate inventories fell by 2.1 million barrels to 138.5 million.

US crude oil stockpiles increased by 452,000 barrels to 443.3 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said, which was less than the 2-million-barrel rise analysts had expected.

The crude market was also watching for possible deeper output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.

“The falls this week, primarily through $55.00 on Brent crude, are likely to awaken the OPEC+ grouping from their slumber finally,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior analyst at OANDA.

OPEC+ plans to meet in Vienna over March 5-6.

Published on February 27, 2020
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