Oil futures fell on Wednesday to mark their lowest settlement in about seven weeks as fears of an oversupply of crude, and potential hit to demand on the back of the coronavirus outbreak in China, outweighed a disruption to Libyan production.
West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery
fell $1.64, or 2.8%, to settle at $56.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the lowest settlement for a front-month contract since Dec. 3, according to Dow Jones Market Data. March Brent crude
lost $1.38, or 2.1%, to finish at $63.21 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe—the lowest since Dec. 4.
“The fact that potentially around 1 million [barrels a day] of supply is offline whilst outright oil prices move lower signals a broader concern over continued oversupply potential,” wrote analysts at JBC Energy, a Vienna-based consulting firm, in a note.
Oil had rallied early Tuesday after Libya’s largest oil field shut down production after a pipeline was cut off, but ended the day lower.
The topic of supplies was underlined by remarks Tuesday by International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Birol said he sees “an abundance of energy supply in terms of oil and gas. It’s the reason that recent incidents we have seen — with the Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, killed, Libya unrest — didn’t boost international oil prices,” Reuters reported.
In its annual World Energy Outlook report Wednesday, the IEA said increasing U.S. shale output will continue to blunt the influence of other energy producers, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
In a monthly report issued Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration forecast a monthly rise in U.S. shale oil production of 22,000 barrels a day to 9.2 million barrels a day in February.
Concerns over the “potential for oil demand destruction if fears about the spread” of the coronavirus increase have also contributed to the weakness in oil prices, said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group.
“Oil traders have good reason to worry because after the SARS virus, we saw a significant drop in oil demand,” he wrote in a daily update. “People did not fly and stayed home, fearing the infectious disease.” The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, with 440 confirmed cases as of midnight Tuesday and at least nine deaths, according to the Associated Press.
In other energy trading, February gasoline
fell 3.5% to $1.5796 a gallon, while February heating oil
dropped 1.6% to $1.8002 a gallon.
February natural-gas futures
tacked on 0.5% to $1.905 per million British thermal units, following a drop of more than 5% a day earlier to the lowest settlement since 2016.
Weekly data on U.S. petroleum supplies will be released a day later than usual because of Monday’s holiday. The American Petroleum Institute will release its report late Wednesday, with the EIA’s figures due out Thursday morning.
On average, the EIA is expected to report a climb of 500,000 barrels in U.S. crude supplies for the week ended Jan. 17, according to a poll of analysts conducted by S&P Global Platts. The survey also showed expectations for weekly inventory increases of 3.3 million barrels for gasoline and 1.6 million barrels for distillates.
Analysts expect the EIA’s Thursday report on natural gas, meanwhile, to show a weekly decline of 88 billion cubic feet in natural-gas stockpiles, which would be much less than the year-ago and five-year average weekly decline, according to S&P Global Platts.