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US crude drops 2.6% to 14-month low, settling at $49.88, on oversupply concerns

Key Points
  • Oil prices settle below $50 a barrel for the first time since October 2017 on signs of oversupply in the United States.
  • Investor sentiment remains under pressure from oversupply and concern over the prospects for global economic growth and fuel demand.
  • U.S. crude futures fell after industry data showed inventories at the storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma rising by more than 1 million barrels.
A truck used to carry sand for fracking is washed in a truck stop in Odessa, Texas.
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Oil prices fell to a 14-month low on Monday on signs of oversupply in the United States and as investor sentiment remained under pressure from concern over the prospects for global economic growth and fuel demand.

U.S. light crude ended Monday's session down $1.32, or 2.6 percent, to $49.88, settling below $50 for the first time since October 2017. The contract fell 4 percent towards $49 a barrel after the settlement, hitting the lowest level on an intraday basis since Sep. 13, 2017.

Brent crude oil fell 67 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $59.61 per barrel.

U.S. crude futures fell after inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma rose by more than 1 million barrels between Dec. 11 and Dec. 14, traders said, citing data from market intelligence firm Genscape.

Traders and market participants closely watch supplies at the hub because it is the delivery point for the futures contract and underpins nearly all other regional crude grades.

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"The Cushing number came in higher than anticipated ... it's definitely pointing to the concern that there's more supply and demand is weakening," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

"The market is still very nervous about that."

Both benchmarks fell by about 30 percent through October and November as a supply glut inflated global inventories but have stabilized over the last three weeks, trading within fairly narrow ranges as oil producers have promised to cut production.

Some investors doubt planned supply cuts by OPEC and other producers such as Russia will be enough to rebalance markets.

OPEC and its allies have agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from January, in a move to be reviewed at a meeting in April.

UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei told reporters in Dubai on Monday that the global oil market was "correcting" and he expected "everyone" to cut oil supply under the agreement reached earlier this month in Vienna.

But OPEC and its allies have an uphill task. U.S. shale output is growing steadily, taking market share from the big Middle East oil producers in OPEC and making it harder for them to balance their budgets.

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As inventories at Cushing rise, front-month U.S. crude futures traded as much as 31 cents below the second month, the widest level since October 2017.

Russian oil output has been at a record high of 11.42 million barrels per day in December so far, an industry source familiar with the data told Reuters.

Increasing concerns about weakening growth in major markets such as China and Europe have also dampened the mood in oil and other asset classes.

Chinese oil refinery throughput in November fell from October, suggesting an easing in oil demand, while the country's industrial output rose the least in nearly three years as the economy continued to lose momentum.

French business activity plunged unexpectedly into contraction this month, retreating at the fastest pace in over four years, while Germany's private sector expansion slowed to a four-year low in December.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.