Oil Plunges on Fears of Virus Spiraling Into a Global Pandemic
(Bloomberg) -- Oil tumbled by the most in almost seven weeks as the worsening coronavirus outbreak fueled concerns that the global economy will falter.
Futures fell 3.7% in New York on Monday, the largest drop since early January. The deadly virus has spread to more than 30 countries, raising the threat of a global pandemic. Infections spiked again in South Korea and Iran, while Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait all reported their first cases.
“The spread beyond China is igniting fears of much larger global crisis,” said Ellen Wald, president of Transversal Consulting and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. “This adds another layer of uncertainty to the demand picture.”
The prospect of a protracted disruption in the global economy from the virus fueled a broader market sell-off. All three major U.S. stock benchmarks slumped more than 3%, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average erasing all of its gains for the year. The S&P 500 energy index fell to an almost 10-year low, with Exxon Mobil Corp. -- one of the top performers -- sinking to the lowest level in 14 years. The yield on 10-year Treasury bonds approached the 2016 record low.
Forced quarantines in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto will impact demand for fuels in one of Europe’s industrial heartlands, according to David Doherty, analyst at BloombergNEF. The regions consume more than 25% of Italian oil products and account for over 30% of the country’s GDP.
The OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia has struggled to agree on a collective response, dropping the idea of an early emergency gathering amid opposition from Russia. The coalition is scheduled to meet on March 5 and 6 but the rapid spread of the virus has increased pressure on the group to make a decision on deepening or extending production cuts in the face of weaker demand.
West Texas Intermediate for April delivery fell $1.95 to settle at $51.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Brent for April settlement declined $2.20 to settle at $56.30 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract lost 3.8% on Monday, after enjoying the longest run of gains in more than a year last week.
The virus also rocked other commodities, with copper sliding 1.2%. U.S. wheat was among the biggest losers, settling 3.1% lower. Corn and soybeans also dropped. Amid the flight from risk to haven assets, gold prices climbed to seven-year highs.
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