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Oil Holds Near $50 as OPEC+ Hesitates Despite Signs of Surplus


By Grant Smith and Elizabeth Low

(Bloomberg) Oil held near $50 a barrel in New York on signs that OPEC and its allies probably won’t go ahead with a much-touted emergency meeting, even as a global oversupply piles up.While the coalition’s technical experts have recommended a production cutback as Asia’s coronavirus batters demand, Azerbaijan’s Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov told the RIA Novosti newswire that the group is unlikely to hold an early meeting. Saudi Arabia is pushing for action, yet key partner Russia has so far resisted.

Oil short-selling more than doubled in two weeks on demand fears

As the alliance dithers, conditions in global crude markets are deteriorating.

A discount on prompt crude, which appeared in Brent front-month contracts last week for the first time in a year, is taking hold in the futures market. The pattern, which is known as contango and usually indicates oversupply, now extends all the way through to September contracts.

Oil short-selling has more than doubled in just two weeks. Hedge funds boosted bearish wagers against WTI crude by 41% in the week ended Feb. 4, following a 52% surge a week earlier.

Another indicator closely watched by traders — the so-called “red spread” between December contracts in consecutive years — is also shifting towards contango after collapsing from $1.31 a barrel in late January to just 4 cents on Monday.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies have shown some readiness to intervene, with a committee of technical experts counseling last week that the coalition — which pumps about half the world’s oil — should deepen existing production curbs by an additional 600,000 barrels a day during the second quarter.

Yet Russia, the biggest crude producer within the group, hasn’t yet announced whether it will back the policy, or a meeting before the group’s scheduled early March gathering to make it happen.

“The oil price will have to do the job of balancing the market because OPEC+ will not step in and counter the current demand shock from China,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, Oslo-based chief commodities analyst at SEB AB.

West Texas Intermediate crude for March declined 0.5% to $50.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 11:22 a.m. in London. It closed 1.2% lower on Friday.

Brent for April delivery fell 0.4% to $54.25 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange after losing 0.8% Friday. The global crude benchmark traded at a $3.91 premium to WTI for the same month.

Prices could come under further pressure if talks aimed at ending the conflict in Libya, where a blockade of ports has pushed production to the lowest level since 2011, lead to a restoration of output. A two-day meeting that started Sunday is being closely watched for any sign of a deal that could restore over 1 million barrels a day of output to global markets.

Other oil-market news
  • Coronavirus has, at this moment, reduced Chinese oil demand by 3.2 million barrels a day, FGE said in a note. The industry consultant said it sees a demand drop of 2.5 million barrels a day for February, assuming less affected areas return to work.
  • Belarusian refineries will buy Russian oil at global-market prices, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Krutoy told local newswire Belta, citing agreements reached by the countries’ presidents.
  • The shipping industry tends to do badly when Chinese demand disappoints, but the outbreak of the coronavirus has done more than just damage the amount of cargo that needs to be transported.


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