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Oil and gas business activity in Texas and neighboring states plunged in the fourth quarter, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve.
The survey from the Fed's 11th District also showed company sentiment turned negative for the first time in nearly two years and executives don't expect much of an oil price recovery in 2019.
The insight is from the Dallas Fed's latest quarterly Energy Survey, which comes on the heels of a nearly 40 percent plunge in U.S. crude oil prices to about $45 a barrel in the final quarter of 2018. The oil market has been hammered by fears of growing oversupply and slowing economic growth that could weigh on fuel demand.
One of the key findings in the survey shows that oil executives think U.S. crude prices will end 2019 at $59.97 on average. That would mark a fairly moderate recovery -- U.S. trade in crude ended Thursday at $47.09.
The Fed's 11th District includes Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico and is home to the nation's top shale oil region, the Permian Basin. Rising output from the Permian has helped push U.S. production to all-time highs above 11.5 million barrels a day, making the United States the world's biggest producer.
The Dallas Fed survey's business activity index, a broad measure of conditions impacting the region's energy firms, plummeted from 43.3 points in the third quarter to 2.3 points in the fourth quarter. That means activity was largely unchanged following 10 straight quarters of increased activity.
The biggest driver of declining activity came from oilfield services firms, the companies that provide equipment and technical expertise to oil producers. An index that measures utilization of equipment by oilfield services fell from 43 points to just 1.6 points in the fourth quarter.
A reading below zero means activity in the sector is shrinking.
Oil and gas production fared better, but the survey still shows weaker growth in those sectors. The oil production index dropped by 5.7 points, while the natural gas production index moved 10.7 points lower.
Sentiment also plunged into negative territory for the first time since the first quarter of 2016, when oil prices hit 12½-year lows.
The broad company outlook index dropped by 57 points to stand at -10.2. The plunge was worse among oilfield services firms, with company outlook down 64 points to -17.2.
The survey also shows companies are feeling less certain about the future. An index of uncertainty jumped 34 points to 42.