Oil falls back to around $15 as global storage space for crude nears limit

A general view of a Venezuelan oil refinery. (File photo: Reuters)
A general view of a Venezuelan oil refinery. (File photo: Reuters)

Oil resumed its decline to trade near $15 a barrel as swelling global crude stockpiles. This made it more difficult for leading producers to balance the market by curbing output.

Futures in New York slid as much as 11.8%, snapping a four-day gain. While US drilling is sliding and Saudi Arabia started reducing output ahead of the start date for OPEC+ supply cuts, investors are focusing again on the massive glut of crude that's taking tanks close to capacity around the world. This raises fears of a re-run of crash that sent May WTI prices below zero for the first time ever last week.

The swelling glut is to test storage capacity limits in as little as three weeks; according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. This is with traders, refiners and infrastructure providers seeking novel ways to hoard crude. This includes on tiny barges around Europe's petroleum-trading hub and in pipelines. The hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for American crude futures, is filling fast and putting added pressure on the US benchmark.

"Concerns surrounding rising global inventories. Especially in the US with the coronavirus pandemic weighing on gasoline consumption, are pressuring oil prices," Kim Kwangrae, commodities analyst at Samsung Futures Inc. said by phone from Seoul. "While OPEC started to curb output, demand is still not being supported. That's going to be a down factor for prices."

There were tentative signs at the weekend that the coronavirus outbreak might be loosening its grip. This is with the death tolls slowing by the most in more than a month in Spain, Italy and France. Reported fatalities in the U.K. and New York were the lowest since the end of March.

WTI for June delivery fell $1.96, or 11.6%, to $14.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 1:40 p.m. Singapore time. The contract rose 2.7% on Friday, trimming the weekly decline to 32%. Brent for June settlement lost 83 cents to $20.61 after falling 24% last week.

Dated Brent, a reference for nearly two-thirds of the world's physical oil flows, declined to $16.01 a barrel on Friday. This is compared with $16.30 the day before, according to traders monitoring prices on S&P Global Platts.

US drillers idled 60 rigs last week, shrinking the active nationwide fleet to 378; according to data from Baker Hughes Co. on Friday. On a percentage basis, the decline was the worst since February 2006. It was the sixth straight weekly drop, halting almost half of American exploration.

Saudi Aramco last week began curtailing daily output from about 12 million barrels to 8.5 million barrels a day; according to a Saudi industry official familiar with the matter. OPEC+ has agreed to reduce production by about 9.7 million barrels a day in an effort to stem oil-price losses.

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