(Bloomberg) — Oil plunged to lows not seen since January as a surprise surge in American crude stockpiles fueled worries about a growing glut amid a dismal economic outlook.
Futures in New York declined 4.7% on Wednesday after the Energy Information Administration revealed the first rise in inventories since early June. Oil was also swept up in a global meltdown of stock and commodity markets after rate cuts in New Zealand, India and Thailand escalated recession fears and spurred a flight to U.S. treasuries and other safe havens.
“It just built on the weakness that we’ve seen this week in crude oil, which is a direct result of the trade tensions between the U.S. and China,” said Brian Kessens, a portfolio manager at Kansas-based Tortoise. “GDP growth isn’t what we expected globally, even as recently as a few months ago.”
Oil has plummeted 13% since last Thursday, when U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest tariff threat shattered a trade truce with China. The Asian nation followed by letting its currency decline to the lowest in more than a decade, raising the specter of a broader currency war and panic about the impact on global consumption. On Tuesday, the EIA lowered its estimate for 2019 global oil-demand growth to 1 million barrels a day.
See also: U.S. Oil Likely in China’s Cross Hairs as Trade War Deepens
West Texas Intermediate oil for September delivery dropped $2.54 to settle at $51.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest level since Jan. 14.
for October fell $2.71 to end the session at $56.23 a barrel on the London-based ICE (NYSE:) Futures Europe Exchange. The contract sold for a premium of $5.20 to WTI for the same month.
In the U.S., domestic crude inventories expanded by 2.39 million barrels last week, snapping a seven-week string of declines, according to EIA data. Gasoline stockpiles also expanded, an alarming development during what is typically the peak demand season.
The “shocking” increase in U.S. fuel supplies, coupled with a flight from risky assets, means oil “will feel pressure in the days and weeks to come,” said Tariq Zahir, a commodity fund manager at New York-based Tyche Capital Advisors LLC.
That will put more pressure on OPEC, Russia and other major producers that just a month ago agreed to extend output cuts to prop up prices. Even another pause in the trade spat may not lure investors back, said Helima Croft, chief commodities strategist at RBC Capital Markets.
“How excited can you be about oil if you believe we can wake up tomorrow and go right back to a trade war?” she said. “You have to ask whether Trump’s volatility is going to put a permanent cap on oil prices?”
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