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Crude oil plunges 30% to $30 a barrel; $20 possible going ahead: Analysts

Brent crude oil prices hit $31 a barrel, down nearly 30 per cent in trade on Monday and extended their 10 per cent weekend drop as the world’s biggest crude producers failed to agree on production cuts, kicking off a price war and sending oil into freefall. 

Saudi Arabia that slashed prices for April delivery by $4-6 a barrel to Asia and $7 to the United States has far more fire-power than Russia in terms of readily available spare oil production capacity, analysts say, and the action is indeed the start of a price war among all producers, which in other words, is nothing but a race to the bottom.

“If OPEC ends up discarding its pro-active market-management policy adopted in 2016 to combat the worst oil glut in world’s history, it essentially loses its raison d’etre. The collapse of the OPEC/non-OPEC alliance was a major shock to the oil market, and it comes with the added challenge that we don’t have the full picture of what lies ahead,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights, a Singapore-based provider of global oil markets macro-analysis.

The failure of the Vienna talks added to increasing investor nervousness over the coronavirus epidemic that has dampened oil demand and the efficacy of official response measures such as last week’s emergency rate cut by the US Federal Reserve.

“If we do see an all-out price war breaking out while the coronavirus is still rampant, Brent could well start skidding towards $30 a barrel. That said, as things stand, $20/barrel looks a remote possibility and prices should stabilise before that,” Hari said.

Virus outbreak dents demand

Coronavirus outbreak, on the other hand, has already slowed down major world economies and dented oil demand. While China appears to be on the verge of containing the outbreak, cases outside of the country continue to grow and the potential impact on demand will be something Opec will have to consider in the times to come. Fundamentally oil looks weak in the backdrop of slowing demand and the state of oversupply the oil market is in, analysts say.

“We recognize that until there is further clarity on the outbreak, Brent prices could face pressure. On the other hand, central bank support as seen with the recent US Federal Reserve announcement [cutting interest rates] is providing a key backstop,” said Shin Kim, head of supply and production at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

S&P Global Platts Analytics has cut its 2020 demand oil growth projection by 1.1 million barrels/day (b/d) since January to 240,000 b/d with chances of a further downward revision. China's oil demand, according to estimates, is expected to grow by only 170,000 b/d in 2020, 20 per cent of its original estimate.

Goldman Sachs, too, expects oil demand to contract by 150,000 b/d in 2020, reversing an original call for 1.1 million b/d of growth before the virus. Given the developments, they have cut their price forecast for Brent for the second quarter and the third quarter of 2020 (Q2, Q3-20) to $30/barrel with possible dips to $20/barrel.

“Forthcoming flood of supply, overwhelmed inventories and coronavirus-led demand shock can see price could to a tumble to nadir of $20 a barrel, lowest oil prices of the last 20 years,” wrote Shweta Shah, an energy analyst at Motilal Oswal.

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