Oil. Picture: REUTERS
Oil. Picture: REUTERS

London/Tokyo — Crude prices slid for a fourth day on Wednesday as Asia and oil-producing countries in the Middle East reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases and the US warned of an inevitable pandemic.

Brent crude fell $1.11, or 2%, to $53.84 a barrel by 9.22am GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 85c, or 1.7%, to $49.05 a barrel.

Pandemic fears intensified as authorities around the world battled to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has now been found in about 30 countries.

World stocks tumbled for the fifth straight day on Wednesday, while safe-haven gold rose again towards seven-year highs and US bond yields held near record lows after governments and health authorities warned of a possible coronavirus pandemic.

Goldman Sachs reduced its 2020 oil demand growth forecast to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 1.2-million bpd, and lowered its Brent forecast to $60 a barrel from $63.

“We see oil prices improving through the year, assuming demand begins to normalise in 2020,” it said, referring to the second half of 2020.

Earlier, oil prices rose on short-covering and amid hopes for deeper output cut by oil cartel Opec and its allies including Russia, a group known as Opec+.

Saudi Arabia's energy minister said on Tuesday he was confident that Opec and its partners would respond responsibly to the spread of the coronavirus.

Opec+ is due to meet in Vienna from March 5-6. “Opec+ may decide to trigger more supply cuts at next week’s meeting, but this may only have a limited effect on oil prices, as demand-side concerns are expected to continue having a major sway on the commodities complex,” Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM said.

The International Energy Agency's (IEA) outlook on global oil demand growth has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, IEA executive director Fatih Birol said on Tuesday, adding it could be reduced further due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Growth in US shale oil production will slow sharply over the next two years, the CEO of US oilfield services giant Schlumberger said.

US crude inventories are expected to rise for a fifth week running. The American Petroleum Institute (API) said late Tuesday that crude stockpiles rose 1.3-million barrels last week. Government data due at 3.30pm GMT) on Wednesday was expected to show a two-million-barrel rise, according to a Reuters poll.