Oil prices plunge as coronavirus fears drive markets

Oil prices plunge as coronavirus fears drive markets

Oil tumbled on fears China’s deadly coronavirus will crimp demand. This prompted Saudi Arabia to say it is closely monitoring the situation.

Increasing number of infections

Futures in London and New York plunged more than 3% as the death toll and the number of infections rose. While officials extended the Lunar New Year holiday to help stem the spread of the outbreak.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicted that global oil demand may take a hit. However Saudi Arabia said it believes the crisis so far will have a “very limited impact” on consumption.

The virus is the latest upheaval for the oil market, which has been hit with turmoil in OPEC producers from the Middle East and North Africa.

Trimming Output

The market is also dealing with plentiful global crude supply, even as OPEC+ trim output to prop up prices.

Investors are selling crude amid a broad withdrawal from riskier assets and fears the virus will curtail fuel consumption as travel is restricted.

“This could be one of the most significant demand destruction events in history”, Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group Inc., said.

“The impact has to be in the hundreds of thousands of barrels of demand loss and counting. Fears of a fast spread will kill oil demand.”

Brent futures lost as much as $2.01, or 3.3%, to $58.68 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. It traded at $59.31 as of 10:41 a.m. Singapore time. The contract slid 6.4 percent last week, capping the longest run of weekly losses since June. West Texas Intermediate fell as much as $2.04, or 3.8 percent to $52.15.

The sell-off could gather pace as Brent approaches levels at which some US shale companies have hedged their oil prices for 2020.

For example, Occidental Petroleum Corp. has hedged this year in a complex deal at a price equivalent to $55 a barrel.

As prices approach that level, the Wall Street banks which sold Occidental the insurance may be forced to sell to offset their exposure.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the world’s largest oil exporter was closely monitoring the situation both for its impact on the Chinese economy and the oil market fundamentals.

Yet, he said that the same “extreme pessimism” that’s afflicting the market also occurred in 2003 during SARS, “though it did not cause a significant reduction in oil demand.”

psychological factors and negative expectations

“The current impact on global markets, including oil and other commodities, is primarily driven by psychological factors and extremely negative expectations adopted by some market participants despite its very limited impact on global oil demand,” the prince said in a statement.

Global oil demand may slip by 260,000 bpd this year.

It could shave almost $3 from the price of a barrel of crude, Goldman Sachs said last week. It used the 2003 SARS epidemic as a guide.

China extended the Lunar New Year holiday until Feb. 2 from Jan. 30.

There are more than 2,700 confirmed cases of infection in China so far.

Canada confirmed its first case while the US announced a fifth. he virus spreads to at least 15 countries and territories.

“The ultimate worst case scenario is getting priced into oil,” said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp. “The move is exaggerated because there is lot of oil in the market at the moment. Fear is driving markets.”