A view of the Kaombo Norte, a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel (FPSO), a project operated by Total, the French multinational oil company, on November 8, 2018. Picture: RODGER BOSCH / AFP
A view of the Kaombo Norte, a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel (FPSO), a project operated by Total, the French multinational oil company, on November 8, 2018. Picture: RODGER BOSCH / AFP

London — Oil prices fell on Monday, in line with weaker stock markets after evidence that economic growth in China, the world’s second-largest crude consumer, eased in 2018.

Brent crude oil futures were last down 35c on the day at $62.35 a barrel by 9.46am GMT, while US crude futures were down 23c at $53.57 a barrel.

The broader financial markets were weaker after data showed China’s 2018 economic growth slowing to the weakest in 28 years, at 6.6% versus 6.8% in 2017.

Although the slowdown was in line with expectations and not as sharp as some analysts had expected, the cooling of the world’s second-largest economy casts a shadow over global growth.

“It remains quite likely that the trade spat with the US has played a part in this latest slowdown, but investors should also factor in that it simply isn’t possible for the Chinese economy to grow at the pace that it has over the last 10 years, in the next 10 years, as the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and the economy becomes more mature,” CMC Markets chief market analyst Michael Hewson said.

While there is concern that a slowing global economy could impact oil demand growth and, therefore the price outlook, the production cuts implemented by the Opec would likely support crude oil prices, analysts believe.

“You can’t justify oil prices at these levels. We’re looking basically at an average of almost $70 a barrel for Brent in 2019,” ING commodities strategist Warren Patterson said.

“I am getting increasingly concerned about how tight the market will be going into 2020.”

A separate report from China’s National Bureau of Statistics on Monday showed crude oil refinery throughput climbed to a record 12.1-million barrels a day, up 6.8% from the previous year.

In the US, energy companies cut the number of rigs drilling for oil by 21 in the week to January 18, taking the total count down to 852, the lowest since May 2018, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in a weekly report on Friday.

It was biggest decline since February 2016, as drillers reacted to the 40% plunge in US crude prices late last year. However, US crude oil production still rose by more than 2-million barrels a day in 2018, to a record 11.9-million barrels a day.

With the rig count stalling, last year’s growth rate is unlikely to be repeated in 2019, although most analysts expect annual production to average well over 12-million barrels a day.

Reuters