Oil prices see record plunge, falling below $11 per barrel

Oil suffered its biggest one-day price plunge in the modern era, at one point crashing about 40% to below $11 a barrel as traders contended with an historic glut.

Despite OPEC’s unprecedented output deal agreed a week ago, the oil market remains massively oversupplied as the lockdowns to fight the spread of the coronavirus reduce global crude demand by about a third. Storage tanks across the globe are rapidly filling, including at the key U.S. hub in Oklahoma.

U.S. stock markets were mixed Monday, with the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 falling less than 1% and the NASDAQ rising slightly.

“There is no limit to the downside to prices when inventories and pipelines are full,” tweeted Pierre Andurand, the head of the eponymous oil hedge fund. “Negative prices are possible,” he added.

In early trading in New York, West Texas Intermediate fell to as low as of $10.96 a barrel, the weakest level since 1998. The plunge was exaggerated as the May futures contract expires on Tuesday, leading to a fire-sale among traders who don’t have access to storage. The June contract fell 13% to $21.80 a barrel at 9:13 a.m. local time. Brent declined 7.1% to $26.08.

There are signs of weakness everywhere. Buyers in Texas are offering as little as $2 a barrel for some oil streams, raising the possibility that producers may soon have to pay to have crude taken off their hands. The nearest timespread for the U.S. benchmark has fallen to its weakest level on record.

Crude stockpiles at Cushing—America’s key storage hub—have jumped 48% to almost 55 million barrels since the end of February. The hub had working storage capacity of 76 million as of Sept. 30, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Despite the weakness in headline prices, retail investors are plowing money back into oil futures. The U.S. Oil Fund ETF saw a record $552 million come in on Friday, taking total inflows last week to $1.6 billion. The fund has said it would move some of its WTI holdings into the July contract, citing regulatory and market conditions.

The price collapse is reverberating across the oil industry. Crude explorers shut down 13% of the American drilling fleet last week. While production cuts in the country are gaining pace, it isn’t happening quickly enough to avoid storage filling to maximum levels, said Paul Horsnell, head of commodities at Standard Chartered.

“The price mechanism is a brutal but effective oil-market balancer,” said Bob McNally, founder of consultant Rapidan Energy Group and a former oil official at the White House. He warned prices could drop into “single digits in order to compel producers to shut their wells.”

The son of the legendary founder of Hin Leong said the Singapore oil trader hid about $800 million in losses racked up in futures trading, suggesting a much bigger hole in the company’s finances than thought, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

A Nigerian oil-industry union called off plans for a strike that threatened the country’s crude exports, after authorities released workers accused of breaking rules aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Mexico’s Pemex has too much gasoline and nowhere to store it, potentially racking up significant ship fees as demand wanes because of the fast-spreading coronavirus.

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