Brent oil futures plunge as growing glut feeds market panic

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Brent oil futures prices plunged again on Tuesday as oil market panic extended into a second day with no end in sight to a swelling global crude glut as the coronavirus pandemic has obliterated demand for fuel.

The most-actively traded U.S. contract, which expires in June, briefly sank into single-digits a day after traders had to pay $37.63 to get rid each barrel of oil at settlement of the expiring May contract. Facing a dearth of storage space and a dramatic 30% plunge in worldwide fuel demand, funds kept selling oil aggressively.

With supply looking like it will far exceed demand for weeks, Brent LCOc1 futures for June delivery fell $6.24, or 24%, to settle at $19.33 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc2 for June, the front-month contract as of Wednesday, fell $8.86, or 43%, to $11.57.

U.S. June futures traded a record of more than 2 million contracts on Tuesday.

At their session lows, the Brent front-month fell to $17.51 a barrel, its lowest since November 2001, while the WTI second-month fell to a record low of $6.50 for that contract.

WTI for May delivery CLc1 rebounded from negative territory and expired at $10.01 a barrel, as most open positions coming into this week were settled on Monday.

“With available storage in short supply, nobody wanted to hold a contract about to come due,” Konstantinos Venetis, senior economist at TS Lombard, an independent investment research provider, said in a note. “U.S. shale producers are fast approaching the point where they will be forced to shut down operations.”

The main U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point for WTI, is expected to be full within weeks.

“There is nothing to make energy traders believe that storage constraints, rising inventories, and demand concerns will be alleviated,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

U.S. President Donald Trump called on the government to make funds available to the U.S. oil and gas industry, calling Monday’s crash a “financial squeeze” and mooting a halt to Saudi imports.

In Texas, however, oil and gas regulators declined to force producers to curtail oil output.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, have announced sweeping cuts in production, amounting to almost 10% of global supplies. But with economies virtually at a standstill due to coronavirus lockdowns, demand is expected to drop as much as 30%.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said leading global oil producers could hold talks again to discuss their output deal further if needed.

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Top oil exporter and de facto OPEC leader Saudi Arabia said it was ready to take extra measures to stabilize oil markets along with other producers.

U.S. crude inventories were expected to rise by about 16.1 million barrels in the week to April 17 after posting the biggest one-week build in history, analysts polled by Reuters said. [EIA/S]

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is set to release its data at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) on Tuesday.

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