US crude oil prices recover after chaotic day of trading

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Oil erased losses after earlier plunging close to $10 a barrel after a major index tracked by billions of dollars in funds bailed out of near-term contracts.

The abrupt decision by S&P Global Inc. to tell clients to sell their June West Texas Intermediate holdings unleashed another day of chaos in the global energy market. At one point on Tuesday, WTI fell to $10.07 a barrel, down more than 20 percent on the day. Volatile swings in oil prices are evident as uncertainty lingers over how soon storage levels will fill to capacity with inventories ballooning in the wake of coronavirus-led lockdowns and lackluster demand.

“The primary factor in the market is how long the coronavirus is really going knock demand out,” said Gene McGillian, manager for market research at Tradition Energy. “We can expect the market to remain under pressure with some pretty volatile price swings as people begin to try to assess whether or not we’ve made our way through the crisis or whether we have more in front of us.”

Oil’s 80 percent plunge since the start of the year has come as the coronavirus outbreak destroys demand for fuels globally. In response, the world’s biggest producers have pledged to slash daily output starting next month to balance the market, but the collapse in consumption has led to a swelling glut that’s testing storage limits worldwide.

S&P is behind the GSCI commodity index, a popular investment product tracked by pension funds and other global investors. When S&P changes the investment policy, the banks who sell the product in turn move their holdings, triggering volatile energy markets.

“This unscheduled roll is being implemented based on the potential for the June 2020 WTI Crude Oil contract to price at or below zero,” S&P said in a notice seen by Bloomberg News. A spokesperson confirmed the notice.

Exchanged traded products - most notably the United States Oil Fund LP - have also rolled positions from June futures into later contracts, while the Bloomberg Commodity Index said it will roll from July into September.

Since WTI traded negative last week, more than 40 percent of the June contract has been liquidated. Holdings of the July contract have been stable, while those on September futures have jumped by almost 20 percent.

Meanwhile, the United States Oil Fund also reported a loss for March of $1.19 billion, according to a filing on Tuesday.

While the market is being hit by financial flows, Russia warned that there will be no quick fix to low prices. The nation’s energy minister, Alexander Novak said Tuesday that the oil market may only start to rebalance in the second half. Prior to the output cuts, which begin on May 1, supply from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries climbed to over 31 million barrels a day, according to Geneva-based tanker tacker Petro-Logistics.

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