Oil gains as governments pile on the economic stimulus

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[March 20, 2020]  By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Friday as the world's richest nations poured unprecedented aid into the global economy to stop a coronavirus-driven recession and U.S. President Donald Trump hinted he may intervene in the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Brent crude futures <LCOc1> were up $2.12, or 7.4%, at $30.59 a barrel by 1012 GMT.

U.S. crude futures for April <CLc1> rose $2.23 to $27.45. The front-month contract expires later on Friday. The more active U.S. crude contract for May <CLc2> was up $2.29, or 8.8%, at $28.20.

Both U.S. contracts gained more than Brent because of U.S. plans to buy up to 30 million barrels of crude for its emergency stockpile by the end of June and reports that regulators in Texas might curtail output.

"The latest bout of price strength is unlikely to have the legs to carry on. The world is awash with oil," said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM. "Simply put, oil is facing a prolonged period of demand destruction."

As the spread of the coronavirus brings much of the world to a halt, nations have poured increasing stimulus into their economies while central banks have flooded markets with cheap dollars to ease funding strains.

Sources told Reuters that China was set to unleash trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus to revive an economy facing its first contraction in four decades.

"Positive risk sentiment and a weaker U.S. dollar are helping crude on Friday. Also, comments from U.S. president Trump that he might get involved in the oil (price) war at an appropriate time is supporting oil," said UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

"My concern relates to the likelihood of more mobility restrictions around the globe, which is likely to weigh further on oil demand. Hence, the worst is probably not over for oil prices."

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The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S. November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

U.S. crude and Brent have both collapsed about 40% in the past two weeks since the breakdown of talks between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, leading Saudi Arabia to ramp up supply.

Trump said on Thursday that he would act on the price war at the appropriate time, saying low gasoline prices were good for U.S. consumers even though they are hurting the industry.

"This is because the low prices are threatening to hit the U.S. shale oil industry hard, thereby jeopardizing the U.S. position as the world's largest oil producer," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said.

Despite the rise of oil prices on Thursday and Friday, Brent was still on track for a weekly loss of more than 10%, its fourth consecutive weekly decline.

Supply restraint by core OPEC producers could push up second-quarter Brent prices to $30 a barrel, while U.S. measures to support the market could underpin prices in the near term, Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Additional reporting by Koustav Samanta in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman and Jason Neely)

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