Oil hits 2018 lows on emerging supply surplus

Supply has surged this year, with the top three producers pumping out more than a third of global consumption

FILE - In this May 14, 2015, file photo, the oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer is towed toward a dock in Elliott Bay in Seattle. Sharply lower oil prices are sending ripples through the global economy, lending more spending power to consumers _ particularly for Americans’ big holiday shopping spree _ but potentially dampening investment in U.S. oil production. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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Oil prices slumped to 2018 lows on Friday in thin but volatile trading, pulled down by concerns of an emerging global supply overhang amid a bleak economic outlook.

Even an expectation that the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) producer group will start withholding supply in 2019 to rein in any glut provided little support, traders said.

International benchmark Brent crude oil futures hit their lowest since December 2017 at $61.52 per barrel. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures slumped by more than 2 per cent, to $53.35 a barrel.

Amid the plunge, Brent and WTI price volatility has surged in November to approach levels not seen since the market slump of 2014-2016 and, before that, the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

The divergence between US and international crude comes as surging North American supply is clogging the system and depressing prices there, while global markets are somewhat tighter - in part because of reduced exports from Iran due to newly imposed US sanctions.

Overall, however, global oil supply has surged this year, with the top-three producers of the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia pumping out more than a third of global consumption, which stands at around 100 million barrels per day (bpd).


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High production comes as the demand outlook weakens on the back of a global economic slowdown.

Oil prices have plunged by around 30 per cent since their last peaks in early October, as global production started to exceed consumption in the fourth quarter of this year, ending a period of undersupply that started in the first quarter of 2017, according to data in Refinitiv Eikon.

Adjusting to lower demand, the top crude exporter Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that it may reduce supply.

“We will not sell oil that customers don't need,” Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters.

Saudi Arabia is pushing Opec to cut oil supply by as much as 1.4 million bpd to prevent a supply glut.

The US bank Morgan Stanley said it saw “a far greater probability that Opec reaches an agreement to balance the market in 2019” than not, adding that this would likely support oil prices “in the high $50s, at least near term.”