US oil price turns negative for first time in history

Xinhua/Agencies | Updated: 2020-04-21 10:15
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An offshore oil platform is seen with a tanker in the distance on April 20, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW YORK - The soon-to-expire May contract for the US oil benchmark went into a free fall to finish deeply in negative territory on Monday, as the energy market continued to reel from the dual demand-supply shock amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for May delivery shed $55.9, or nearly 306 percent, to settle at -$37.63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The negative finish means producers would be paying buyers to take oil off their hands.

It marks the first time an oil futures contract has traded negative in history, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The May contract expires on Tuesday.

The June WTI contract fell more than 18 percent to 20.43 per barrel. The global benchmark Brent crude for June delivery decreased $2.51 to close at $25.57 a barrel on the London ICE Futures Exchange.

Exchange-traded funds with oil-related assets also dipped noticeably on Monday due to the crude price crash. Meanwhile, Wall Street's major averages tumbled with the Dow closing down nearly 600 points. The S&P 500 energy sector slid 3.29 percent, among the worst-performing groups.

Traders tried to unload positions ahead of the contract's expiration, contributing to the historic drop, experts noted. On Monday, traders with long positions scrambled to get out amid fear that it would be difficult to find a place to park physical oil amid a rising glut of crude.

"We attribute the WTI price weakness to the imminent expiry of the May contract tomorrow," Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst at UBS Global Wealth Management, told Xinhua on Monday.

Weaker demand tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a potential supply glut is a more severe problem.

"The decline in more liquid futures contracts reflects the broader problem we have in the oil market -- severe oversupply in 2Q," said Staunovo, adding that with oil inventories trending higher over the coming weeks, the June contracts are likely to stay under pressure.

For the energy world, the knock-on economic effect from the pandemic was an immediate deep impact on global demand, sending fuel prices plummeting, said researchers at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy.

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