Oil drops as much as 8%, on pace for worst week in more than a decade

Workers extracting oil from oil wells in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas on May 1, 2018.
Benjamin Lowy | Getty Images

Oil prices dropped as much as 8% on Thursday as crude continues to take a hit on both the supply and demand side. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude is now down more than 25% this week, putting it on track for its worst week since December 2008, and its third largest weekly decline on record. 

On Thursday WTI fell $1.48, or 4.49%, to settle at $31.50 per barrel. Earlier in the session it traded as low as $30.02. International benchmark Brent crude fell $2.51, or 7%, to trade at $33.31 per barrel.

The coronavirus outbreak has led to softer demand for crude as people cut back on travel, among other things. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners arriving from most of Europe, a move likely to reduce demand further.  

"Our initial assessment of the impact of cancelling transatlantic flights between the US and Europe is a direct loss of about 600,000 barrels per day per month in jet fuel demand," Rystad Energy's head of oil markets Bjoernar Tonhaugen said.

Since the beginning of the year, WTI has lost half of its value, as the coronavirus outbreak escalated into a global pandemic.

OPEC deal unwinds

As prices fell, OPEC met in Vienna last week where Wall Street largely expected an announcement of additional production cuts in an effort to prop up prices.

The 14-member cartel proposed an additional cut of 1.5 million barrels per day, but ally Russia rejected the proposal.

OPEC then decided that the production cuts currently in place, but that expire at the end of the month, would not be extended. This means that starting April 1, nations can pump as much as they want. WTI dropped 10% on Friday after the meeting ended with no agreement.

Following Russia's rejection of the proposal, OPEC de facto leader Saudi Arabia retaliated by slashing its official oil prices while announcing plans to ramp up production.

As tensions between the two powerhouse producers escalated, WTI and Brent each plummeted 24% on Monday, posting their worst day in nearly three decades while sending prices to a more than four-year low.

Then on Wednesday, Saudi Aramco said that it received a directive to increase its production capacity from 12 million barrels per day to a record 13 million barrels per day.

Earlier in the week there had been reports that talks between OPEC and its allies might continue, but Reuters reported on Thursday, citing sources, that the OPEC+ technical meeting scheduled for March 18 was unlikely to go ahead.