Unprecedented drop in oil could continue over coming weeks: BMO's Ollenberger
Oil traded near zero, after plunging below that level for the first time in history amid rapidly filling American storage tanks, as the U.S. benchmark’s May contract entered its final trading session.
Futures in New York fluctuated between positive and negative territory, after plunging to as low as -$40.32 on Monday. The June contract, where the majority of trading is now taking place, fell below US$20, as did Brent futures for the same month.
The spread between the two reflects the growing fear that those who take physical delivery of crude in the near future may not find any outlet or storage for those barrels as refineries curb operations. The world’s biggest independent storage company said Tuesday almost all of its space is sold.
With the coronavirus pandemic bringing the U.S. and much of the global economy to a standstill, processors are using far less crude, leaving so much unused oil that American energy companies are running out of room to store it. And if there’s no place to put the oil, nobody wants a crude contract that is about to come due.
“The advent of negative prices on a benchmark future will send a very strong signal to OPEC+ and G-20 producers of the dangers facing the industry,” said Callum MacPherson, head of commodities at Investec Bank Plc. “This may be a foretaste of what is to come if they do not take more coordinated action to manage the situation.”
The extreme moves in West Texas Intermediate crude show just how oversupplied the U.S. oil market has become. The WTI June contract is likely to see downward pressure in coming weeks and there will be a “violent rebalancing” in American production as storage fills up, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note.
The price collapse is reverberating across the oil industry, with prices trading below zero across the U.S. WTI Midland in Texas stood at -$13.13 a barrel, while crude in Alaska was at -$46.63.
WTI for May delivery traded at -$3.43 a barrel as of 10:32 a.m. in London. The June contract fell 28% to $14.81.
Brent declined 24 per cent to US$19.40 a barrel, the lowest since 2002. Dated Brent was assessed at US$19.095 a barrel on Monday, according to S&P Global Platts.
“The May crude oil contract is going out not with a whimper, but a primal scream,” said Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian and vice chairman of IHS Markit Ltd.
Crude stockpiles at Cushing -- America’s key storage hub and delivery point of the WTI contract -- have jumped 48% to almost 55 million barrels since the end of February. The hub had working storage capacity of 76 million as of Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Cushing is likely to be completely full by the first week of May, Goldman said in a note by analysts including Damien Courvalin.
Despite the weakness in headline prices, retail investors are continuing to plow money back into oil futures. The U.S. Oil Fund ETF saw a record $565 million come in on Monday, taking total inflows over the last six sessions in excess of US$2 billion.
As oil markets remain glutted, plants are shutting down across the world. Portuguese refiner Galp Energia SGPS SA said it will suspend the operations at its Sines refinery for a month as its storage tanks are nearly full. Other refineries from the U.S. to Italy have already shut as the crisis ripples across the industry. In Asia, bankers are increasingly reluctant to give commodity traders the credit to survive as lenders grow ever more fearful about the risk of a catastrophic default.
“If we don’t start seeing a recovery in demand soon, it’s likely that the June contract may face a similar fate” as U.S. storage keeps filling, said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING Bank NV in Singapore.
--With assistance from Dan Murtaugh, David Marino and Sharon Cho.