Oil prices hit by worries of sharp economic slowdown

Concerns about potential US recession emerge after remarks by Federal Reserve

Reuters March 25, 2019
Concerns about potential US recession emerge after remarks by Federal Reserve. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON: Oil prices slipped on Monday, with concerns of a sharp economic slowdown overshadowing support from tighter supply due to OPEC's production cuts and US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela.

Brent crude oil futures were down $0.36, or 0.54%, at $66.67 per barrel at 1200 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $58.75 per barrel, down $0.29, or 0.49%.

Both crude oil benchmarks closed down last week after briefly hitting their highest since November 2018.

"Oil remains in a tug of war between fundamentals and a fickle sentiment in global financial markets," said Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights.

Oil slips further from 2019 highs on trade worries

Concerns about a potential US recession emerged on Friday after cautious remarks by the US Federal Reserve caused 10-year treasury yields to slip below the three-month rate for the first time since 2007.

Historically, an inverted yield curve - where long-term rates fall below short-term ones - has signaled an upcoming recession and world stocks hit a 12-day trough on Monday.

Bullish sentiment helped drive benchmarks to last week's highs, but that move could now leave them vulnerable to a correction.

"Speculators increased their net long in ICE Brent by 15,934 lots over the last reporting week, to leave them with a net long of 308,606 lots ... the largest position since late October," ING said in a note. "A large gross long is a key downside risk for the market, especially with growing concerns over the economy."

Adding to concerns of a widespread global downturn, the manufacturing output data from Germany, Europe's biggest economy, shrank for the third straight month, though an improved index on business climate there provided some cheer.

"Estimates for growth and earnings have been revised down materially across all major regions," said US bank Morgan Stanley.

Oil slips but holds near 2019 peak as supplies tighten

But BNP Paribas strategist Harry Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum "oil supply fundamentals remain price-constructive with OPEC+ collectively making good progress on pledged supply cuts while involuntary supply losses in Iran remain sizeable and those in Venezuela continue to mount."

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-affiliated allies such as Russia, together referred to as OPEC+, have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil supply this year to prop up markets, with OPEC's de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, seen to be pushing for a crude price of over $70 per barrel.

Commerzbank noted declines in US crude stocks and expenditure by US shale firms were also providing support. "Oil market-specific reports, which point to tighter supply, are preventing prices from falling any more sharply."