Demand fears are once again rippling through the oil patch.
US oil prices plunged 7% Tuesday to $36.76 a barrel. It was crude’s worst day and lowest closing price in nearly three months. At one point, oil was down as much as 9%. Brent crude, the world benchmark, fell below $40 a barrel for the first time since late June.
The fierce selling in the energy market is being driven largely by rising concern about how much crude the fragile world economy needs. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, summer driving season in the United States is over. Jet fuel demand remains extremely weak because many people don’t want to fly during the pandemic. And no one knows for sure how long it will take to recover.
“Demand is down. Supply is up,” said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities. “The economic laws of survival are being violated on both ends of the spectrum.”
The selloff comes after Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, slashed its official selling price to Asia and the United States, Bloomberg News reported. It’s never a good sign when the world’s leading oil exporter feels compelled to cut prices to draw buyers.
“That is a double-blinking warning sign,” said Yawger. “OPEC kind of panicked today by putting out a bad signal to the energy community.”
‘Avalanche of sell orders’
The latest turmoil in the oil market comes during major turbulence in the stock market.
The Nasdaq plunged Tuesday for the third day in a row and is flirting with a 10% correction from record highs. Major pandemic winners like Tesla ( ), Apple ( ) and Zoom ( ) are down much more.
“Oil is getting caught up in the risk-off trade,” said Jeff Wyll, energy analyst at Neuberger Berman. He added that “nothing changed” in the fundamental supply/demand picture for oil to “warrant this kind of drop.”
Just as investors are hitting the exits on tech stocks, they are unwinding speculative bets on crude oil.
“Everyone is trying to get out at once. There is an avalanche of sell orders,” said Mizuho’s Yawger.
Investors are also rushing out of oil stocks.
Apache (kicked out of the Dow, retreated another 3%.), Occidental Petroleum ( ) and Diamondback Energy ( ) all tumbled more than 6% on Tuesday. ExxonMobil ( ), which last month was