Venezuelan oil tankers are seen in this file photograph. Opec+ has been withholding supply to support oil prices. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Venezuelan oil tankers are seen in this file photograph. Opec+ has been withholding supply to support oil prices. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Tokyo — Crude prices fell more than 2% to multimonth lows on Monday as the rising number of cases of the new coronavirus in China and city lockdowns there deepened concerns over oil demand, even as Saudi Arabia’s energy minister sought to calm the market.

Brent crude fell by $1.36 a barrel, or 2.2%, to $59.33 by 6.25am, having earlier dropped to $58.68, its lowest since late October. US crude was down by $1.30, or 2.4%, to $52.89, having earlier eased to $52.15, the lowest since early October.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, said on Monday he is watching developments in China and said he is confident the new virus will be contained.

Markets are being “primarily driven by psychological factors and extremely negative expectations adopted by some market participants despite [the virus’s] very limited impact on global oil demand”, he said.

With the coronavirus’s ability to spread becoming stronger, most financial markets are being hit, though many are closed in Asia due to Lunar New Year holidays.

“Such extreme pessimism occurred back in 2003 during the SARS outbreak though it did not cause a significant reduction in oil demand,” Abdulaziz said.

He also said he is confident the kingdom and other Opec members, with producers in a group known as Opec+, has the capability to respond and steady the oil market if needed.

Opec+, which includes Russia and other producers, has been withholding supply to support oil prices and recently increased its agreed output reduction by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.7-million bpd through March.

Abdulaziz said on Friday the aim of Opec+ is to cut seasonal inventory builds that typically occur in the first half of the year. All options are open when Opec+ meets in Vienna in March, he said.

Oil is unlikely to find many buyers “until signs of concrete progress have been made on the control … of the coronavirus”, said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda.

Reuters