These days, every corner of the oil market is “unprecedented”—from the demand destruction to the supply surge and the resulting glut. The oil futures curve is no exception and is also in a state never seen before. This is the super contango, the market situation in which front-month prices are much lower than prices in future months, pointing to a crude oil oversupply and making storing oil for future sales profitable.
The last time a super contango appeared on the market was during the previous glut of 2015. During the peak of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the super contango hit a record—the discount at which front-month futures traded compared to longer-dated futures was at its highest ever.
The double supply-demand shock of the past month threw the oil futures market into another super contango. And this super contango is already beating previous records.
The super contango is representative of the state of the oil market right now: the growing glut with shrinking storage capacity as oil demand craters, OPEC’s leader and the world’s top exporter, Saudi Arabia, intent on further cratering the market with a supply surge beginning this month. Storage costs are surging, and so are costs for chartering tankers to store oil at sea for future sales when traders expect demand to recover from the pandemic-hit plunge.
The market structure flipped into contango in early February, when the Chinese oil demand slump in the coronavirus outbreak led to lower estimates for oil consumption. A month and a half later, oil consumption is set to plunge by 20 million bpd, or 20 percent, this month. Add to this the Saudi supply surge, and here we have what analysts expect to be the largest glut the oil market has ever seen.
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