Oil closes the week at 18-year low despite historic production cut

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Oil closed the week at the lowest since 2002 as an historic OPEC+ production cut failed to counter a wave of gloomy demand forecasts and concerns that traders are quickly running out of room to store crude.

Futures in New York ended the week down 20 percent after Sunday’s agreement by OPEC+ to cut output by almost 10 million barrels a day. The agreement wasn’t enough to overcome signs that energy demand was cratering as people sheltered from the coronavirus pandemic.

China reported that its economy suffered a historic slump in the first quarter, OPEC predicted demand for its oil will fall to a three-decade low and U.S. and Europe inventories swelled. Meanwhile, prices in the physical oil market have disconnected from futures, with landlocked crudes such as Bakken and Western Canadian Select worth about $11 to $12 a barrel.

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In the US, a key exchange-traded fund plans to move some of its giant futures position to a later month. The move comes as near-term prices for US crude are trading at huge discounts to later-dated contracts on concern the storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, will fill to capacity. That has seen prices disconnect from Brent futures in London.

“There is a squeeze going on at Cushing, Sandy Fielden, director of research for Morningstar Inc., said by phone. “People who have futures contracts, if they can’t close them now, they have to deliver.

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West Texas Intermediate futures for May, which expires next week, are at an almost $7 a barrel discount to June futures, close to the biggest spread between the front and second month contracts in 11 years. Dated Brent was assessed at $18.86 on Thursday, according to S&P Global Platts, far below futures prices, and real cargoes are trading at even steeper discounts.

“You are delivering oil into the worst delivery situation in recent memory, Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group., said by phone.

Oil investors searching for a bottom of the price rout in West Texas Intermediate crude have rushed into exchange-traded funds. Net-long positions surpassed 400,000 lots on Friday, the highest since at least 2016.

Investors have poured more than $1 billion into the United States Oil Fund ETF so far this week. At Thursday’s close, the fund held more than a quarter of all the June WTI contracts. As of Friday, the fund will now hold 20 percent of its contracts in the second WTI futures month.

“The amount of buying in Oil ETF has been staggering, hedge-fund manager Pierre Andurand wrote in a tweet.

The collapse in oil prices is prompting a rapid decrease in production. Drilling rigs targeting crude in the US fell by 66 to 438, the lowest since Oct. 2016, Baker Hughes said Friday.

Read more: Saudi Arabia, Russia ready to take further action on oil market if necessary

With the recent output-cut deal by OPEC and its partners failing to revive prices, Saudi Arabia and Russia have said they’ll “continue to closely monitor the oil market and are prepared to take further measures jointly with OPEC+ and other producers if these are deemed necessary. Saudi Aramco said Friday that it will reduce supply to 8.5 million barrels a day from May 1.

"We’re seeing record cuts, but still not enough to bring the market even close to balance,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING Bank NV. “Even OPEC’s own numbers showed that. It’s a continuation of the story.”

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