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Oil futures lower on concerns over capacity and negative prices

It has been a bloody couple of weeks for the oil markets. A price war between Saudi and Russia, a depression in demand due to the coronavirus and a slow reaction from oil producers in cutting supply, has crushed the price of oil. Add to that a sprinkle of fundamental supply and demand forces hitting the futures market for oil, and you get the unprecedented price of -$37.63 for a barrel of WTI.

Futures were down today to a low of $10.07 and $19.99 for WTI and Brent, respectively. Concerns over negative prices repeating the next month loom for WTI as we edge closer to the expiry date for July, with the spread between WTI and Brent edging higher. But it is not all good news for Brent. With inventories across the world increasing, filling up excess capacity, negative prices for Brent are not out of the question. However, the odds are stacked up against WTI – with futures being physically settled in Cushing, Oklahoma, and storage being primarily onshore. This is in comparison to Brent with futures being settled in cash alongside the mobility being able to be stored on carrier vessels offshore.

Energy Aspects Chief Oil Analyst Amrita Sen told Bloomberg that the supply recovery is likely to lag the rise in demand for oil, giving a glimmer of hope for the battered commodity. Furthermore, Major OPEC countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, and Nigeria have already started cutting supply ahead of agreed May 1st start date for the historical deal for where OPEC countries would collectively cut around 10% of the supply of oil to combat the effects of the coronavirus on the price of oil. With countries slowly getting out of lockdown, the demand for refined oil products is predicted to creep up in the following months. Nevertheless, significant countries such as the United States are still getting hammered by the effects of the coronavirus, which may stagger that increase in demand for refined oil products across the world.

This uncertainty with supply and demand, alongside capacity concerns and a repeat the negative prices last month, is being reflected in the drop in price today. But the fact that the price is not negative today may be considered as a good sign as it can be interpreted as traders selling their positions now so they do not experience what happened last week with oil, relieving the selling pressure come expiry for the June oil contracts for WTI.

Oil Traders need to be prepared for volatile and violent swings as supply and demand forces clash it out in the next couple of weeks.