Crude oil falls below $30 as coronavirus spreads

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LONDON: Brent and US crude fell below $30 on Monday as emergency rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve and its global counterparts failed to tame markets and China’s factory output plunged at the sharpest pace in 30 years amid the spread of coronavirus.

Brent crude LCOc1 was down $4.03, or almost 12pc, to $29.82 a barrel by 1339 GMT. The front-month price had risen $1 earlier in the session.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 was at $28.63, down $3.10 or almost 10pc.

To combat the economic fallout of the pandemic, the Fed on Sunday slashed its key rate to near zero, triggering an unscheduled rate cut by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to a record low as markets in Asia opened for trading this week.

The Bank of Japan later stepped in by easing monetary policy further, while Gulf central banks also cut interest rates. However, the measures failed to calm investors, and stock markets weakened again.

“The price response is understandable, given that lower interest rates and new bond purchasing programs will do nothing to combat the current weakness of oil demand,” Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said.

He added that the more countries freeze public life, close their borders and cancel flights, the greater the impact will be on oil demand, especially as this also involves economic activity being generally scaled-down.

Meanwhile, China’s industrial output fell by a much larger than expected 13.5% in January-February from the same period a year earlier, the weakest reading since January 1990 when Reuters records began.

Brent’s premium to WTI narrowed to less than $1, close to its narrowest since 2016, making US crude oil uncompetitive in international markets.

“The relative weakness in Brent shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the severity of the breakout across Europe,” said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

“Another factor offering relatively more support to WTI is news that President Trump has ordered Strategic Petroleum Reserves to be filled up at these lower price levels.”

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States would take advantage of low oil prices and fill the nation’s emergency crude oil reserve, in a move aimed to help energy producers struggling from the price plunge.

IHS Markit said on Monday the world is looking at the “possible buildup of the most extreme global oil supply surplus ever recorded”, and that US crude oil production could fall by 2 to 4 million barrels per day over next 18 months.

Oil prices have also been under intense pressure on the supply side, as top exporter Saudi Arabia ramped up output and slashed prices to increase sales to Asia and Europe.

This month the Organization of the Petroleum Countries and Russia failed to extend production cuts that began in January 2017, aimed at supporting prices and lowering stockpiles.

Saudi Aramco is likely to sustain higher oil output planned for April in May, Chief Executive Amin Nasser said on Monday, signaling the top oil producing company is prepared to live with low oil prices for a while.

An OPEC and non-OPEC technical meeting planned for Wednesday in Vienna has been called off as attempts to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Russia after the collapse of their supply cut pact made no progress, sources said on Monday.

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