By Ann Koh, James Thornhill and Grant Smith
Futures in London fell 5.6% to near $25 a barrel as some traders estimate crude demand will collapse by as much as 20 million barrels a day this year. Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton on Friday landed a rare invitation to attend OPEC’s June meeting, but hopes for an agreement began to unravel just hours later as his call to curb output was criticized by regulators and drillers.
“We are now looking at a scale of surplus in the second quarter we probably never have seen before,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB.
Policy makers around the world are taking measures to combat the virus. But the process could take additional time in the U.S. as the two political parties work out their differences. Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a Republican economic recovery package of nearly $2 trillion, describing it as too focused on corporations at the expense of workers. Equities dropped globally along with American futures.
Brent for May settlement lost $1.50 to $25.48 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange as of 11:51 a.m. in London after dropping to as low as $24.68 earlier. That’s less than the benchmark’s $24.88 a barrel close on Wednesday, which was the lowest since May 2003.
WTI for May delivery dropped 43 cents to $22.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after falling to as low as $20.80. The April contract plummeted 29% last week, the most since 1991.
The unprecedented demand and supply shock was reflected in a range of oil-market indicators. Brent’s six-month timespread was more than $8 a barrel in contango, the widest since 2009, a market structure known as contango indicating over-supply.
“Any traders with the capacity to store oil are probably putting their hands up, looking at the contango,” said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at Axicorp Ltd. “Oil could head to $10 to $15 a barrel very quickly” if OPEC and Texas can’t reach an agreement on cutting production.
A gauge of WTI volatility surged 24% on Friday to more than 200 index points, the highest level on record. Meanwhile, hedge fund wagers against the U.S. oil benchmark dropped 26% in the week ended March 17, although that was likely short-covering before the next round of speculative attacks.
The prospects for the oil market remain bleak with more nations going into lockdown to tackle the virus. At the same time, supply is surging. The chance that either Saudi Arabia or Russia will back down from their price war seems remote, with President Vladimir Putin unlikely to submit to what he sees as the kingdom’s oil blackmail, according to Kremlin watchers.
Even if crude demand recovers to normal levels by the middle of the year, 2020 is still on course to suffer the biggest decline in consumption since reliable records started in the mid-1960s. Until now, the biggest annual contraction was recorded in 1980, when it tumbled by 2.6 million barrels a day as the global economy reeled under the impact of the second oil crisis.
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