An oil tanker unloads crude oil at a crude oil terminal in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China. Picture: REUTERS/STRINGER/CHINA OUT
An oil tanker unloads crude oil at a crude oil terminal in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China. Picture: REUTERS/STRINGER/CHINA OUT

Tokyo — Oil prices fell for a fifth day on Thursday to their lowest since January 2019 as a growing number of new coronavirus cases outside China fuelled fears of a pandemic which could slow the global economy and lower crude demand.

Brent crude was down 63c, or 1.2%, at $52.80 a barrel at 0414 GMT. The contract earlier fell to as low as $52.57, the lowest since January 2 2019. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures fell by 65c, or 1.3%, to $48.08 a barrel. It earlier fell to as low as $47.84, the lowest since January 4 2019.

In the five trading sessions on Thursday, Brent has dropped 11%, while WTI has declined 10.6%, their biggest five-day percentage losses since August 2019.

On Wednesday, for the first time ever, the number of new coronavirus infections outside China, the source of the outbreak, exceeded the number of new Chinese cases.

The spread to large economies including South Korea, Japan and Italy has caused concerns that fuel demand growth will be limited. On Wednesday, consultants Facts Global Energy forecast oil demand will grow only 60,000 barrels per day in 2020, or “practically zero”, because of the widening outbreak.

US President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday evening that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low”. However, Asian share markets fell on Thursday morning, as investors fear the coronavirus spread will disrupt the global economy as quarantines and other measures taken to halt its advance slow trade and industry.

“Speculations that coronavirus may spread in the US prompted a series of fresh selling,” said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Fujitomi. If an outbreak “continues to worsen in the US, oil prices will likely decline further, especially with US gasoline prices already plunging,” Saito said. The US is the world’s largest oil producer and consumer.

Gasoline stockpiles dropped by 2.7- million barrels in the week to February 21 to 256.4-million, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, amid a decline in refinery throughput. Distillate inventories fell by 2.1-million barrels to 138.5-million.

US crude oil stockpiles increased by 452,000 barrels to 443.3-million barrels, the EIA said, which was less than the 2-million-barrel rise analysts had expected.

The crude market was also watching for possible deeper output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies including Russia, a group known as Opec+.

Opec+ plans to meet in Vienna on March 5-6. 

Reuters