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US crude oil prices crash below $15 a barrel

David Sheppard in London

US crude oil prices fell more than 20 per cent as trading reopened on Monday, crashing below $15 a barrel for the first time since 1999.

The latest slump, which has seen US oil prices hit a succession of lows, comes as the coronavirus pandemic has slashed global demand as much as a third, and led to warnings about storage filling up within weeks.

The US crude benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, fell more than 20 per cent shortly after trading began in Asia on Monday to hit a low of $14.47 a barrel. The May contract expires on Tuesday, and has come under extreme pressure in the last two sessions with traders seemingly nervous about taking deliveries of barrels without easy access to storage.

The WTI contract for June delivery was firmer, losing only 9 per cent to hit a low of $22.71 a barrel, partially supported by a large influx of retail investors in recent weeks trying to pick the bottom in oil prices. The USO exchange traded fund, the biggest WTI-linked ETF, saw $1.5bn pour in between Monday and Thursday of last week, in a move traders believe has widened the gap between the two contracts.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, lost 0.5 per cent on Monday to trade just below $28 a barrel.

The crash in oil prices in the past weeks has come despite a landmark deal by the Opec+ group to remove almost 10 per cent of global supply, with backing from the US and G20. Oil traders say the move, while amounting to the largest co-ordinated oil supply cut on record, has not been enough to underpin a market where as much as a third of demand has been wiped out by lockdowns and other measures to stop the virus’s spread.

Jefferies analyst Jason Gammel said the oil industry faced “the bleakest oil macro outlook since at least the late 1990s and perhaps ever”, cutting his forecast for WTI prices in the second quarter to $19 a barrel.

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