Autumn break on gas prices is not in sight


Oil tumbled to an 18-year low as coronavirus lockdowns cascaded through the world’s largest economies, leaving the market overwhelmed by cratering demand and a ballooning surplus.

Futures in London fell as much as 12.7% to the lowest since March 2002, while New York crude briefly dipped below $20 a barrel. U.S. President Donald Trump saying he’ll call Vladimir Putin to discuss plunging prices did little to staunch the decline.

A huge oversupply is further collapsing the oil market’s structure, and there may be more weakness to come as the world quickly runs out of storage capacity. The slump in demand has shut refineries from South Africa to Canada, leading to excess barrels in the market.

Trump said on Monday he does not want to see the energy sector “wiped out” over low oil prices brought on by the dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Still swelling stockpiles are weighing down the market. At the key storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, inventories are said to have ballooned by more than 4 million barrels last week, according to traders with knowledge of Genscape data, raising fears about storage capacity limits being reached.

“We’re grinding lower here, and we’ll continue to get lower as runs get cut globally,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “As we see specific points like Cushing near its limits, it’s just going to put greater and greater pressure on the price till we get to a clearing point.”

Prices are on track for the worst quarter on record. Goldman Sachs estimates consumption will drop by 26 million barrels a day this week as measures to contain the coronavirus hurt global GDP. Consultant FGE estimated that refinery operating rates have been cut by over 5 million barrels a day worldwide, and could bottom out at between 15 million and 20 million lower.

Meanwhile, Riyadh and Moscow are showing no signs of a detente in their supply battle as Saudi Arabia announced plans to increase its oil exports in the coming months.

In the market for actual barrels of crude, prices are already far below those of futures benchmarks. Oil from Canada touched a record low of $3.82, which is effectively negative pricing by the time that oil gets to market in the Midwest or Gulf Coast.

It’s a similar picture in Europe, where Kazakh crude was offered at a 10-year low. As a result, the six-month contango, when the futures price is higher than the spot price, on the global Brent benchmark has grown bigger than in the financial crisis, at more than $13 a barrel.

The plunge in prices has caused distress in some OPEC nations. Algeria, which holds the cartel’s rotating presidency, urged the secretariat to convene a panel but the call has failed to gather the majority backing necessary to go ahead. Riyadh is among those opposing the idea.

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