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Oil Hits 7-Week Lows, Pummeled by Coronavirus, U.S. Fuel Builds

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com - It’s all coming together for the oil bears: the new coronavirus impact, weaker oil demand and stunning U.S. fuel stock builds.

Crude prices fell almost 3% to seven-week lows on Wednesday as surplus supply forecast by the International Energy Agency — the Paris-based watchdog for the world’s energy consumers, known by its initials IEA — combined with growing fears over the adverse economic impact from the coronavirus, known as the 2019-nCoV.

Analysts tracked by Investing.com predicted the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA, will show in its weekly supply-demand report due on Thursday steady additions to stockpiles of gasoline and distillates from last week.

New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for U.S. crude, settled down $1.64, or 2.8%, at $57.01 per barrel. It hit a seven-week low of $56.55 earlier. WTI is down 7% since the year began, and could finish January as its worst performing month since May 2019.

London-traded Brent, the global crude benchmark, closed down $1.38, or 2.1%, at $63.21. Brent hit a seven-week low of $62.95 earlier and is down 4% on the year.

London-traded Brent, the global crude benchmark, slid $1.17, or 1.8%, to $63.42. Brent is down 4% on the year.

After a 35% gain for WTI in 2019 and 24% for Brent, oil appeared to be on good footing again this year as U.S.-Iran tensions initially sent crude prices rallying three weeks ago. But that upside was lost as calm returned to the Middle East.

This week, despite threats that more than 1.2 million barrels per day of production could be knocked out in Libya, the market continued to sink on suggestions of even larger supplies coming on across the world.

“The virus outbreak in China erupted out of nowhere and took everybody by surprise, it brings back a bearish risk for demand,” Olivier Jakob of Swiss oil risk consultancy PetroMatrix said. “We are in an environment where oil demand fears on the coronavirus are dominating oil supply fears on Libya.”

Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) said in a note on Tuesday it anticipated a 260,000-barrels-per-day negative shock to global oil demand on average, including a 170,000-bpd loss of jet fuel demand, from the virus. Its analysis was based on comparison with the 2003 SARS health epidemic which shook global markets, including oil.

On crude price loss alone, Goldman said it expected Brent to lose much as $3 per barrel to the virus, based on the SARS impact sampling.

Investing.com’s own data on crude prices from 2003, however, showed that the SARS epidemic caused WTI, then the global benchmark for crude, to lose as much as $6 per barrel from its highs.

On the potential additional supply headed for the market, Fatih Birol, the head of the Paris-based IEA, said he expects a 1 million-bpd crude surplus in the first half of 2020.

The Washington-based EIA, meanwhile, is expected to say on Thursday that crude stockpiles fell by 1 million barrels last week, extending the previous week’s drop of 2.5 million barrels.

Gasoline stockpiles gained by 3.1 million barrels, the EIA is likely to say, adding to the previous week’s rise of 6.7 million barrels.

On distillates inventories, traders expect the agency to report a 900,0000-barrel build, compared with the previous week’s 8.2-million-barrel jump.

Ahead of the EIA report, trade group American Petroleum Institute is expected to issue later Wednesday, at 4:30 PM ET. Its snapshot on crude, gasoline and distillates supply-demand for last week that usually serves as precursor to the government report.

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