Various reports hit the news feeds today quoting a deliberately headline-grabbing statement by Paul Sankey, managing director at Mizuho Securities, in which he is reported as saying, “Oil prices can go negative.” That is, they could as a combination of Saudi Arabia (and Russia) flooding the market with increased oil and the market running headlong into COVID-19-induced curtailment of activity that is suppressing consumption, which combined will create the perfect storm of excess supply.
In reality, inventory levels are already rising.
CNN quotes Sankey, who said global oil demand is only around 100 million barrels per day.
However, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could crash demand by up to 20 percent.
This would create a 20 million barrel-per-day surplus of oil in the market that would rapidly exceed storage capacity, forcing oil producers to pay customers to buy the commodity – hence, in effect, negative oil prices.
The American government plans to purchase a total of 77 million barrels of oil starting within weeks the article states, but according to Sankey, this can only be done at a rate of 2 million barrels per day, leaving a massive excess that will be looking for a home.
Brent oil prices have already fallen to the lowest level for 17 years. The consequences for the U.S. oil industry if a coronavirus-induced recession drives down demand could be catastrophic.
West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) collapsed by a staggering 19.2 percent to $22 while the Mexican Basket is down 22.4 percent.
For a short while, hedges will protect producers and they will continue to pump oil. While that will protect producers for a while, it encourages counter-cyclical practices; producers should be cutting back but instead will probably continue to pump and ship into store.
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