Oil recovers some losses after 6% plunge, but market on edge

By: | Published: November 21, 2018 8:55 AM

Oil prices on Wednesday clawed back some of the previous day's more than 6 percent plunge, lifted by a report of an unexpected decline in U.S. commercial crude inventories as well as record Indian crude imports.

International Brent crude oil futures were at .19 per barrel at 0239 GMT, up 66 cents, or 1.1 percent from their last close.

Oil prices on Wednesday clawed back some of the previous day’s more than 6 percent plunge, lifted by a report of an unexpected decline in U.S. commercial crude inventories as well as record Indian crude imports. But investors remained on edge, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning of unprecedented uncertainty in oil markets due to a difficult economic environment and political risk.

International Brent crude oil futures were at $63.19 per barrel at 0239 GMT, up 66 cents, or 1.1 percent from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures, were up 66 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $54.09 a barrel. Wednesday’s gains came after a report by the American Petroleum Institute late on Tuesday that U.S. commercial crude inventories last week fell unexpectedly by 1.5 million barrels, to 439.2 million, in the week to Nov. 16.

Record crude imports by India of almost 5 million barrels per day (bpd) also supported prices, traders said. Yet Wednesday’s bounce was small in the context of the general market weakness, which saw crude tumble by more than 6 percent the previous session amid a selloff in global stock markets.

“The global economy is still going through a very difficult time and is very fragile,” IEA chief Fatih Birol said on Tuesday. “Rising global growth fears smashed oil markets and saw European and U.S. shares slide,” futures brokerage CMC Markets said in a daily note.

With output surging and the demand outlook deteriorating, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is pushing for a supply cut of between 1 million and 1.4 million bpd to prevent a repeat of the 2014 glut. “We would anticipate further weakness until the reaction from OPEC+ (Dec. 6) and the G20 summit is clearer (Nov. 30/Dec. 1),” said Ashley Kelty, oil analyst at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald Europe.versupply

Despite an expectation of OPEC-led cuts, Brent and WTI prices have slumped by 28 and 30 percent respectively since early October, and the entire structure of the forward price curve has changed. The Brent forward curve was in steep backwardation in October, implying a tight market with prices for spot delivery higher than those for later dispatch. This makes it unattractive to store oil.

Since then, however, the curve has moved into contango for most of 2019, implying oversupply as higher prices further out make it attractive to store oil for later sale. “Investors are becoming increasingly concerned that any potential production cuts by OPEC will be insufficient to cover the surplus in the market,” ANZ bank said on Wednesday.

“The list of reasons for the decline are pretty specific … too much supply and a risk of slowing demand growth,” said James Mick, Energy Portfolio Manager with U.S. investment firm Tortoise. “Part of the supply issue has been surging U.S. production,” he added. U.S. crude oil production <C-OUT-T-EIA> has jumped by almost a quarter this year, to a record 11.7 million bpd largely because of a surge in shale output.

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