Energy

Oil drops 1% to settle below $50 for first time in more than a year

Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Oil prices moved lower Tuesday as fears that energy demand would take a long-term hit from the coronavirus outbreak offset prospects for more cuts in crude production from OPEC and its allies.

Brent crude lost 44 cents to trade at $54.01 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude shed 1% to settle at $49.61 per barrel.

"I think the market is still concerned that it doesn't know the full demand destruction from the coronavirus," said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Oil slid sharply over the past two weeks on concerns over the global economic impact of China's coronavirus. In early trading, it bounced higher on the prospect of further output cuts from OPEC+, comprising the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia.

An OPEC+ committee weighed the impact on global oil demand and economic growth of the outbreak of the coronavirus at a meeting, hearing from China's envoy to the United Nations in Vienna and discussing how to respond.

Sources close to the matter told Reuters that OPEC+ was considering cutting crude output by a further 500,000 barrels per day (bpd).

However, the producer group could face an uphill battle to put more cuts in place so soon after the existing pact was agreed to and because of uncertainty over how long the virus crisis will last.

"If the producer group believes the outbreak to be contained, with effects tapering out after a short period, like SARS, they have the option to stand pat and weather the lower price environment until demand returns," the global head of commodity strategy at BNP Paribas, Harry Tchilinguirian, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.

Price gains were also limited by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak's comments that he was uncertain it was time to tighten oil output curbs.

BP finance chief Brian Gilvary told Reuters the economic impact of the virus will reduce oil consumption for the whole year by 300,000 to 500,000 bpd, roughly 0.5% of global demand.

Goldman Sachs warned that the outbreak's impact on demand is likely to keep spot-price volatility elevated.

"Oil prices are now at levels where we would expect a supply response from both OPEC and shale producers, and where China would likely seek to build crude inventories," Goldman said in a note.