US oil prices turn negative first time in history

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US oil prices crashed to unprecedented lows on Monday turning negative for the first time in history amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

That means oil producers are paying buyers to take the commodity off their hands over fears that storage capacity could run out in May.

Demand for oil has all but dried up as lockdowns across the world have kept people inside.

As a result, oil firms have resorted to renting tankers to store the surplus supply and that has forced the price of US oil into negative territory.

Deal of the day

The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, fell as low as minus $37.63 a barrel.

The severe drop on Monday was driven in part by a technicality of the global oil market. Oil is traded on its future price and May futures contracts are due to expire on Tuesday.

Traders were keen to offload those holdings to avoid having to take delivery of the oil and incur storage costs.

Oil price chart from 2000 to 2020

June prices for WTI were also down, but trading at above $20 per barrel. Meanwhile, Brent Crude – the benchmark used by Europe and the rest of the world – was also weaker, down 8.9% at less than $26 a barrel.

The oil industry has been struggling with both tumbling demand and in-fighting among producers about reducing output.

Earlier this month, OPEC members and its allies finally agreed a record deal to slash global output by about 10%. The deal was the largest cut in oil production ever to have been agreed.

But some analysts said the cuts were not big enough to make a difference.

“It hasn’t taken long for the market to recognise that the OPEC+ deal will not, in its present form, be enough to balance oil markets,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axicorp.

Meanwhile, concern continues to mount that storage facilities in the US will run out of capacity, with stockpiles at Cushing, the main delivery point in the US for oil, rising almost 50% since the start of March, according to ANZ Bank. “We hold some hope for a recovery later this year,” the bank said in its research note.

Mr Innes said: “It’s a dump at all cost as no one, and I mean no one, wants delivery of oil with Cushing storage facilities filling by the minute.”