Oil prices shed more than 5% during two-day stock market sell-off

  • The stock market sell-off has investors offloading risk assets, knocking oil further from nearly four-year highs struck last week.
  • Brent crude lost nearly $5 a barrel, or 5.6 percent, and now sits just above $80 after rising above $86 last week.
  • U.S. crude is down $4 a barrel, or 5.3 percent, falling below $71 after nearly hitting $77 last week.
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Haidar Mohammed Ali | AFP | Getty Images

Last week, $100 oil was the talk of Wall Street. This week, a broad market sell-off has made that chatter seem like distant noise.

Brent crude oil, which last week rocketed above $86 a barrel for the first time in nearly four years, now sits at a three-week low just above $80. The international benchmark lost nearly $5 a barrel, or 5.6 percent, in the two days that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed more than 1,300 points.

U.S. oil did not fare much better. Over the two days, West Texas Intermediate crude is down $4 a barrel, or 5.3 percent, to $70.97, also a three-week low. Last week, it nearly hit $77 a barrel, posting its best level since November 2014.

Both benchmarks slipped from those highs immediately, before clawing back some gains on Tuesday. But the fear factor in the market after heavy selling on Wednesday and Thursday has many investors getting rid of risk-oriented assets like oil, said Tamar Essner, director of energy and utilities at Nasdaq Corporate Solutions.

"There was a fare amount of bullish momentum and potentially froth in the oil market, so I think there was room to come down," she said. "If you think about it from a market technicals perspective, pullbacks are often around 5 percent."

To be sure, on Thursday the market also got a bearish report showing U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 6 million barrels and gasoline inventories jumped 1 million barrels. Earlier in the day, OPEC reported that its members are so far offsetting production declines in Iran and Venezuela, helping to alleviate some of the concern about supply shortages that have pushed up oil prices.

The stock market sell-off is also exacerbating fears about slower global growth and weakening oil demand amid trade tensions, said Andrew Lipow, president at Lipow Oil Associates. Crude oil is also a highly liquid asset, making it a good candidate to offload in a sell-off for many traders, he said.

"If you had a day like yesterday and today where the market is going down and you're leveraged, then you're sitting there with a margin call and you're looking at things you can sell," Lipow told CNBC.

However, the main story driving the oil market remains the loss of Iranian crude exports ahead of the full renewal of U.S. sanctions on Nov. 4, Lipow said. That deadline is still looming large over the market and could help push oil prices back up.

On Thursday, Bank of America Merrill Lynch technical strategist Paul Ciana said he still sees potential for Brent crude to reach $92 a barrel and for WTI to top $85. Oil prices are now nearing levels where Ciana sees a buying opportunity.

"In an overbought pullback that seems to have just begun, we would consider buying Brent in the $77s and WTI in the $69s," he said in a research note.