Oil prices slide below $58 as coronavirus lockdowns accelerate worldwide

Saket Sundria March 23, 2021
A new Covid spike is threatening India's economic recovery.
A new Covid spike is threatening India's economic recovery.

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) --Oil fell to the lowest intraday in more than a month as a string of renewed lockdown measures in Europe clouded the prospects for a speedy recovery in consumption.

U.S. and global benchmark futures plunged more than 6% to new session lows, and the oil futures curve collapsed into a structure indicating near-term weakness. Europe’s demand recovery is set to take another hit with Germany, France and Italy all having widened lockdown measures this month. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are surging in India and threatening the economy’s recovery from recession.

“With much of Europe being shuttered, the implications ultimately for next quarter are that the demand increases may not be as robust,” said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities. “We’re continuing to see broad long liquidations in the oil space here, and it stands to reason that long positions could restart the trend lower.”

Tuesday’s selloff was the latest move lower in a tumultuous week in the oil market. Weakness in physical markets has grown recently, which coupled with a resurgent coronavirus in some parts of the world, has dragged crude lower. OPEC+, which is holding on to output cuts in an attempt to buoy prices, could remain cautious about any future supply increase when it meets next week if prices remain on the back foot.

“Open interest has fallen sharply in recent days as volatility-targeted funds deleverage en masse given the increased trading ranges of late,” said Ryan Fitzmaurice, commodities strategist at Rabobank. “This fall in open interest has taken the wind out of the oil market’s sails, so to speak, as these influential speculative ‘longs’ are forced to pare down position sizes.”


  •          West Texas Intermediate for May delivery fell $4.02 to $57.54 a barrel as of 1:43 p.m. in New York
  •          Brent for the same month lost $4.02 to $60.60 a barrel
  •          Both benchmarks fell to the lowest since Feb. 12 on an intraday basis

In other markets, the dollar climbed, making commodities priced in the currency more expensive, and an advance in U.S. Treasuries showed haven buying, adding to the risk-off mood.

The weakness in the nearest part of the futures curve comes as stockpiles built up last year are being unwound from storage, according to consultant Energy Aspects. The contango structure is unlikely to last because the removal of oil from inventories is part of the market’s ongoing re-balancing, the consultant said.

“The road to oil demand recovery appears to be full of obstacles,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets at consultant Rystad Energy. “The depth of the correction is surprising in a way, as we are just about a week ahead of the upcoming OPEC+ ministerial meeting on April 1 and as the U.S. fiscal stimulus is supposed to boost market confidence.”

In the U.S., crude inventories are expected to have risen last week for the fifth straight week, according to a Bloomberg survey. The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute will report its storage figures later Tuesday ahead of U.S. government weekly data.

Other oil-market news:

  •          Southeast Asian oil and fuel demand has hit a plateau after an initial recovery from the Covid-19-induced slump and appears unlikely to get back to pre-virus levels until the end of the year or later.
  •          Libya’s state oil producer is set to get the biggest portion of development spending in the country’s new budget, potentially aiding plans to raise output as the industry recovers from a decade of civil war.
  •          Saudi-led coalition warplanes struck military positions belonging to Iran-backed rebels in Yemen’s capital, hours after the kingdom proposed a negotiated end to a war that’s raged for six years and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
  •          West Africa’s rate of unsold crude has dropped in the last few days with about 35 cargoes due for loading by the end of next month yet to find buyers, according to traders familiar with the matter.

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