U.S. crude oil futures turned negative on Monday for the first time in history, ending the day at a stunning minus $37.63 a barrel as traders sold heavily because of rapidly filling storage space at the key Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, also slumped, but that contract was nowhere near as weak because more storage is available worldwide.
The May U.S. WTI contract CLc1 fell $55.9, or 306%, to settle at a discount of $37.63 a barrel after touching an all-time low of -$40.32 a barrel. Brent LCOc1 was down $2.51, or 9%, to settle at $25.57 a barrel.
“The storage is too full for speculators to buy this contract, and the refiners are running at low levels because we haven’t lifted stay-at-home orders in most states,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “There’s not a lot of hope that things are going to change in 24 hours.”
Physical demand for crude has dried up, creating a global supply glut as billions of people stay home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Refiners are processing much less crude than normal, so hundreds of millions of barrels have gushed into storage facilities worldwide. Traders have hired vessels just to anchor them and fill them with the excess oil. A record 160 million barrels is sitting in tankers around the world.
U.S. crude stockpiles at Cushing rose 9% in the week to April 17, totaling around 61 million barrels, market analysts said, citing a Monday report from Genscape. The June WTI contract CLc2 traded more actively and settled at a much higher level of $20.43 a barrel. The spread between May and June at one point widened to $60.76, the widest in history for the two nearest monthly contracts.